Far West Texas beckons this Saturday evening as the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC square off against El Paso Locomotive at Southwest University Park. Saturday’s match is scheduled for kickoff at 7:30pm MT and will be streamed live on ESPN+.
As is the case with every sporting event this summer, recent world events collide with the escape that team competition offers, and Saturday’s match in El Paso will offer a moment to remember a gravely somber milestone. Monday marked the one year anniversary of the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 23 people and left an equal number injured. “Anytime you go into a place that’s gone through adversity and had really a horrific scene that’s happened in their community, when we go there we want be very respectful,” said Switchbacks Head Coach Alan Koch on Wednesday afternoon. “We’re fortunate that we’re going down there and we’re going to show support for the Locomotive and to show support for the local community as hopefully we can all go remember what was a horrific day.”
“Soccer brings people together and has the ability to heal communities and brings joy to so many,” said Jordan Burt. “My heart aches for El Paso and I pray this game can serve as a moment of healing, unity, and joy.”
Scottish midfielder Nick Ross, who spent his formative years with hometown club Inverness Caledonian Thistle, helps guide an offensive midfield for the Locomotive alongside Dylan Mares. Mexican striker Josué Aarón Gómez leads the forward line and is atop El Paso’s goal charts having scored twice in the still-young 2020 USL Championship season. Former Switchbacks winger Saeed Robinson has seen time in three matches this season, while Logan Ketterer remains the undisputed first choice goalkeeper for the Locomotive and has amassed two clean sheets through the club’s first five matches.
“We’ve watched every single one of El Paso’s games, and obviously at Phoenix is one of the most difficult games to play,” said Koch. El Paso lost 3-1 in The Valley of the Sun against Phoenix Rising FC last Saturday. “You could see that El Paso had some very good moments in that game – they’re a very possession-based team and they’ve got some very good footballers and they can hit you in numerous ways so we’re going to have to be ready to nullify those strengths and see what we can do to go and expose them. Going and playing at El Paso against the Locomotive is one of the tougher challenges there is in this league and as our group continues to grow these are the challenges we want. We need to embrace it and grow as a group and hopefully we can go down there and get some points. El Paso have had a bit of a stop-start season so far, just like we have. Everybody in our group is very aware of their quality – you don’t just go and make the Western Conference final in your first year; you’ve obviously invested to put together a quality team. They have a huge group of returning players so they’ll feel very confident. We are the underdogs but we want to go there and see what we can get out of it and we’ll fight tooth and nail to try and get some points.”
The Switchbacks will be able to call on the services of Andre Lewis on Saturday after Lewis was suspended for last Saturday’s match against the Real Monarchs SLC that saw the Monarchs snatch a late 2-1 win. Rony Argueta partnered Hiroki Kurimoto in the center of midfield last weekend at Weidner Field. “Andre gives us another option, which is good” said Koch. “We showed some good moments in the game this last week, and we also had some challenging moments. We carry a small squad so it’s imperative we have everybody available and everybody playing to the best of their abilities. Andre has been good in training so far this week and we’ll have to figure out if he’s going to be in the starting eleven.”
George Lebese notched the Switchbacks’ goal against the Monarchs from the penalty spot. “I think we need to work on getting more goals and getting more points – like we did in our first game away,” said Lebese. “We believe in ourselves and we’ve been working very hard the whole week and we still have two more days of training to prepare. We’re fit and we’re prepared and training at this altitude is very hard so it should be a little bit easier there, never mind the heat. We’ve been working really hard for this game. Personally, getting the goal gets my confidence up and I hope I can give that confidence on to other players. There’s a couple guys who have scored goals already and I think that if we can get the whole team confident then we can get something out of the game on Saturday. I really appreciate the support of everyone and people back home – especially their support for the team. We need all their support as we try to get positive results. I really appreciate it personally and I’m really thankful.”
As is the way in the southwest in August, temperatures in El Paso will consistently peak over the triple-digit mark this week, with mandatory water breaks a certainty during Saturday’s match. “To be honest; that’s just part of playing in the USL,” said Head Coach Koch. “I think the players that have played in the league for a few years will be aware of it and our new players are going to experience playing in one of the warmest places…we’re just going to have to be ready for it.”
“The heat is just something we’re going to deal with,” said Rony Argueta. “Mentally we’ll just push through it focus on our job and what we are going to do on the field against a good team. I felt like on the trip out to the Monarchs in Utah that bus ride definitely helped us a lot and the little things like being together off the field definitely helps out the chemistry of the group. At the moment, we’re working on our shape out of possession and tomorrow we’ll prepare in-possession with the ball. We’re tweaking little things here and there and Coach is trying different things so we’ll see what we end up going with for Saturday. It always feels good to play. As players that’s what we want – we want to be out on the field and contributing and doing what we can to help the team and do what’s best for the team.”