Back to winning ways, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC host the Portland Timbers 2 this Saturday evening at Weidner Field where the first 500 fans will receive a Switchbacks backpack, courtesy of Colorado Technical University.
A hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders 2 last weekend helped maintain the Switchbacks’ current position inside the USL’s Western Conference playoff picture. Shane Malcolm started the scoring against S2 after a brilliant piece of build-up play by Masta Kacher.
“It’s always a good feeling to score – at home or on the road,” said Malcolm. “It gave me a bit of confidence so hopefully I can use that to leapfrog into this weekend’s game. We don’t look at the fact Portland are struggling – they’re a good team and they move the ball really well. We have to stay attentive defensively and at home, I’m sure we’ll score.”
The struggles of the Timbers 2 in 2017 are well documented. With just 9 points, coming via two wins and three draws, T2 find themselves alone at the bottom of the USL’s Western Conference table. T2 started the season with eight consecutive losses, but some of that hardship is lessened by the fact that the MLS’ Portland Timbers stand in 4th place at the time of writing in a bitterly close MLS Western Conference. The first meeting of 2017 between T2 and the Switchbacks ended 0-0 at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon on May 10th.
“No!” interrupted Masta Kacher when asked about the struggles of the Timbers 2 this season. “They’re a really good team. The first game we defended a lot because they really pushed us. It’s not about the opposition and where they stand, it’s about our mentality and how we play the game. We must show our heart and fight.”
Kacher, who set up both Switchbacks goals in the win over the Seattle Sounders 2, was named a starter on the USL Team of the Week. “It feels great to be on the Team of the Week, but most important is to help the team,” said Kacher. “It’s good because I was able to help create two goals so that helps the team and that’s my focus. Defensively, attacking, whatever – whatever helps us win.”
Souring the victory over the Sounders 2 was a second half injury to right back, and Switchbacks joint goals-scored leader Jordan Burt. “Jordan will be out for a minimum of eight weeks with the injury he sustained in the Seattle game,” confirmed Switchbacks Head Coach Steve Trittschuh. “The field was too thick and it caught his foot. It’s a big loss. When you lose a starter with all the goals and quality he’s put in, it hurts. I told the guys that it’s next-man-up time. We have to keep playing the way we have and keep right back as an attacking position for us.”
Replacing Burt against S2 was Davy Armstrong, who has worked tirelessly this season to return to first-team action after being sidelined until last Saturday’s substitute appearance. “It felt great to be out there – I wasn’t supposed to be back until the end of September,” said Armstrong. “God has been looking out for me and he got me back early. I’m so glad we got the win and I was able to help my teammates. We’ve got to approach every game the same. We’ve got to win here on out. It’s going to be a battle this weekend and we know that.”
“Portland are a bit of a wild-card,” said midfielder Eddy Prugh. “We don’t know who they’ll bring and what they’ll do, but they’ll be tough – they proved that this season against us. They have an MLS game this weekend so maybe that changes things a bit for them. We did what we’re trying to do against Seattle so we have to stick to the plan and carry it forward into this weekend.”
MLS’ Portland Timbers host the Los Angeles Galaxy at Providence Park in Portland this Sunday. T2 will have a week off after Saturday’s contest in Colorado Springs before playing Sacramento Republic next Sunday, August 13th.
“They’re a good team and they play a really good brand of soccer,” said Trittschuh about T2. “We discovered last weekend how we have to play. We have to press high on our opponents and we have to continue to play that way – especially at home in front of our fans and with the players we have.”
T2’s leader in games-played, goals, starts, and minutes-played, Bulgarian striker Villyan Bijev is without question T2’s most important player. Once on the books of England’s Liverpool, Bijev made his way to the Pacific Northwest after a career that saw the rangy striker play in both Germany and his native Bulgaria. Bijev was named to the USL All-League First Team after a 2016 season that saw him lead the USL with ten assists, in addition to scoring eight goals. Bijev joins Masta Kacher as a starter on the USL Team of the Week after notching an 81st-minute winner against Rio Grande Valley FC at Providence Park in the Rose City last Saturday evening.
“Bijev is their best player – he’s the one player we have to know where he is at all times,” said Trittschuh. “He’s a young guy I like a lot who is striving for the next level.”
Timbers 2 starting goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh was recognized as the USL Player of the Week after saving two penalties in the win against RGVFC. The former Santa Clara University standout has now saved three PK’s in 2017. Wade Hamilton started in goal in the May 10th 0-0 draw between T2 and the Switchbacks, although McIntosh is odds-on to start on Saturday evening at Weidner Field.
Dangerous striker Russell Cicerone has become an impact-substitute this season for T2. The Bloomfield Hills, Michigan native has shown signs of the class that led to finishing his career at the University of Buffalo with 42 goals and 22 assists in just 71 appearances. Sierra Leone-born striker Augustine Williams is another dangerous youngster on T2’s books, while Pacific Northwest native Kyle Bjornethun has impressed in defense.
From a Switchbacks perspective, Kevaughn Frater is eligible to return to the starting XI after missing out on the win against the Sounders 2 for yellow-card accumulation. Numerous players are on hand to replace Jordan Burt after his injury, including the aforementioned Davy Armstrong, and Conner Bevans who has also seen time at wing back in 2017. Regardless of personnel changes, Head Coach Trittschuh reiterated the mantra that began before the victory against the Sounders 2: “We have to win. We have to! Keep winning and we’ll be able to hold off teams like Orange County and get ourselves where we need to be. We have to win on Saturday. Nothing else will do.”
Tickets for Saturday's match against Portland start at just $12 and are available here.