COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 2, 2022) – The Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC announced today Jimmy Ockford, Zach Zandi, and Aaron Wheeler would all be returning for the 2023 season.
“I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this team for a third season, but what’s more exciting is that it’s just another year to fight for a championship,” said Jimmy Ockford on his 2023 signing. “We got a taste of a championship environment this past season. If we take that experience and motivation into next year, I fully believe we can take home the trophy in 2023.”
Ockford, 30, enters his third season with the Switchbacks in the 2023 campaign. He was a stalwart position on the defensive line in the 2023 season, successfully making 81 clearances and 43 interceptions across 30 games of play. His dominance came through with an aerial duel success rate of over 64%, and 31 tackles for the 2023 season. He also held an impressive 81.9% passing success rate on over 1,200 passes.
Ockford solidified himself in the starting lineup at Reno 1868 in 2017, making 31 appearances and scoring four goals as they reached the USL Championship Playoffs in their expansion season. He was then signed by the San Jose Earthquakes (MLS) in 2018, appearing in 15 games before going on loan back to Reno 1868 and Nashville SC in 2019.Ockford played for Louisville City FC in 2020, playing in 11 games to help bolster the USL Championship’s best defense in recording nine clean sheets.
“Jimmy [Ockford] has been part of our core and a captain since we arrived here,” said Burke. “His pace, experience, and fearlessness will be very valuable to our back four again next year.”
“I look forward to coming back for the 2023 season and building on the season we had this past year. There is still a lot more to accomplish as a team, but I am excited to get back to work in the Springs this January.” Zach Zandi said about his return.
The 26 year-old midfielder returns to the Switchbacks for his third season in the black and blue where, despite struggling with injury, he has made a noticeable impact on the pitch. In his two seasons Zandi has found the net six times in just 35 appearances combined. He also claimed four assists in 2022 to submit his best scoring numbers across his four seasons playing professionally. Zandi frequently elevated those around him completing 604 passes with a 76.7% passing accuracy on his way to his best offensive season.
The attacking midfielder made his jump to USL Championship after having a successful college career at Villanova University. A Pennsylvania native, Zandi recorded three goals and six assists in his first professional season with the Bethlehem Steel FC before joining the Switchbacks in 2021. Zandi will enter his fifth professional campaign in 2023.
Head Coach Brendan Burke had this to say about Zandi: “I think Zach continues to get better every year and we look forward to working with him for many years beyond this. He is an important piece of what we have accomplished already and intend to build here.”
“Grateful to be back with this coaching staff, group of men and organization,” said Wheeler. “2022 was another step forward for this club and what is being built here in Colorado Springs. Looking forward to continuing to push the threshold of what is possible in front of our fans and city in 2023.”
Aaron Wheeler made his comeback to professional soccer in 2022 after a five season hiatus. Despite only appearing in 21 matches after joining the team midsummer, Wheeler scored four goals for COS which matched his mark for second most in a single season. He cemented himself as a late game force for the Switchbacks, subbing on several times and scoring impactful goals, arguably the biggest coming in second half stoppage time against El Paso Locomotive to notch the 4-4 equalizer on August 12th.
The Baltimore native made his first professional debut in 2010, after signing with FC Tampa Bay, where he scored four goals in 19 appearances. After an injury that ended his season early with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 2011, he signed with FC KooTeePee of the Finnish Ykonen in March of 2012. In January 2013, Wheeler was signed to his first Major League Soccer contract with Philadelphia Union. With them he made 25 appearances before being loaned to Harrisburg City Islanders. Between 2013 and 2017, Wheeler made 43 appearances and scored 12 goals.
“For Aaron to be a finalist for comeback player of the year after so much time off speaks to his character and work ethic. We brought him out of retirement because we trust him and know what he can do and he rewarded that trust in a big way,” said Brendan Burke about Wheeler’s performance.
Name: Jimmy Ockford
Height: 6’ 1”
Date of Birth: June 10th, 1992
Hometown: Yardley, PA
Name: Zach Zandi
Height: 5’ 6”
Date of Birth: July 18th, 1996
Hometown: Westchester, PA
Name: Aaron Wheeler
Height: 6′ 4″
Date of Birth: May 11 1988
Hometown: Baltimore, MD