The Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC conclude the 2020 USL Championship season on Saturday evening against FC Tulsa at ONEOK Field in Oklahoma. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN+. Saturday will be the first trip for the Switchbacks to ONEOK Field in Tulsa since a late April contest in 2019.
On Wednesday evening the Switchbacks bid adieu to Weidner Field with a hard fought 0-0 draw against Group C leaders El Paso Locomotive FC. In a play that typified the Switchbacks’ never-say-die spirit, center back Evarardo Rubio brilliantly kept El Paso off the scoresheet with an 81st minute goal-line clearance.
“It was an impressive play – anytime you clear the ball off the line it’s an important moment in the game,” said Switchbacks Head Coach Alan Koch. “I think it was just showing a sense of togetherness and doing whatever it takes to preserve the clean sheet. The Switchbacks can pride themselves on having had a blue-collar approach so far in the existence of the club and I think we need to stay true to that, but what we’ve really tried to do this year is to build on that by playing attractive football at the same time. We don’t want to lose sight of what the club has built and where we’ve got to, but the flip side is that we’re obviously trying to play an attractive brand of soccer now as we move toward the new stadium next year.”
“I’ve been feeling good and comfortable at center back and I’ve been very proud of the team,” said Culiacán-born Rubio on Thursday morning. “Saturday is a very important game because it’s the last game of the season and we need to finish well at Tulsa – that would give us a good feeling as a team. It will be a difficult game because we don’t have a lot of time to recover, so it’s very important that when we train we have good recovery so that we can be at 100% for the game.”
With just one day of preparation before making their way to the Sooner State, Switchbacks players were focused on recovery the day after the draw with El Paso. “All the work has been done in preseason, and all the other times where we’ve had only a week to prepare we always planned ahead and Coach already knows what we’re capable of doing,” said South African George Lebese. “So right now, it’s about taking care of our bodies and being ready to go for Saturday, but we’ll be good. As a new group that only started playing together this season, I think we did ok at times. Obviously we have quality players and we expect to do much better, but we did ok – especially towards the end. We kept on fighting, we kept on improving, and we’ve been playing good teams that are making the playoffs and even they say that we’ve played some good football. I think we’ve built a really solid foundation. Overall we are not very happy, but we are happy with the progress. We’ve learned a lot about each other and about the game as well. I don’t think any of us has ever been in this kind of situation considering how crazy the year has been. It’s definitely been a challenge for all of us. Personally for me it’s been a challenge too; having to meet all these guys and learn to play with them and make friends and obviously spend time with them all season, and they’ve become like family. I’ve enjoyed the challenge personally and it’s been great to be with this team. Hopefully I’m going to help to make the results better next year.”
Cuban striker Darío Suárez leads FC Tulsa in goals with 8. Former Switchbacks forward Tobenna Uzo notched a brace in FC Tulsa’s 3-2 victory against Sooner State rivals Oklahoma City Energy FC on Wednesday night, including an 88th minute winner. Uzo, who was introduced into Wednesday’s match in the 77th minute, scored just two minutes after coming on before notching the aforementioned winner just before the end of regular time.
“Already today I’ve watched Tulsa – their games earlier this season, and their game last night against Oklahoma City,” said Head Coach Koch on Thursday evening. “And I’ve re-watched our game from last night. Tulsa are a team that’s flying. You can see that they’re incredibly positive and they’re doing whatever it takes to win. They scored two late goals last night to win the game and they’re on the cusp of making the playoffs. As important as the game was last night against El Paso for El Paso to try to win the division, Saturday’s game is going to be equally important for Tulsa. These are the games we want to play in. We want to play in meaningful games and I thought our guys embraced a meaningful game last night and we expect our group to embrace another big challenge on Saturday.”
Michigander Sean Lewis has started all of FC Tulsa’s matches in goal during the 2020 USL Championship season, with the former Oakland University shot-stopper having kept 3 clean sheets.
San Antonio FC have long been confirmed as runaway winners of Group D of the USL Championship, with FC Tulsa and Austin Bold FC fighting over a berth in the 2020 Playoffs. With Austin’s 2-0 loss on Wednesday night to the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros, FC Tulsa know that a draw against the Switchbacks on Saturday will be enough for Michael Nsien’s team to clinch a playoff berth.
“Tulsa is a club that’s obviously invested a lot – they have new ownership that really came in with additional resources and they’ve invested very wisely,” added Koch. “I like the makeup of their team. They’ve signed some talented players – there’s a few that we actually tried to get last year that chose to go to Tulsa, so I’m looking forward to seeing them and playing against them. I have a lot of respect for what Tulsa have done as a club and we’re trying to do the exact same thing.”