By: Roland Vargish
(Colorado Springs, CO-February 27, 2016) The Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC improved their preseason record to 2-0 after a scrappy and hard-fought contest against the Air Force Academy. Played at the Cadet Soccer Stadium on the grounds of the United States Air Force Academy in Northwest Colorado Springs, both teams struggled for continuity in high winds and with many roster changes and numerous substitutions.
The Air Force Academy’s last competitive match was over four months ago, as the Falcons fell to the University of Missouri-Kansas City on November 7th of 2015. It’s been two weeks since the Switchbacks opened their preseason campaign with a 6-1 victory over Real Colorado in Highlands Ranch. The long layoff for the AFA Falcons and Switchbacks FC was evident, although the Switchbacks grabbed an early lead after just 4 minutes.
Josh Suggs, in his first preseason with the Switchbacks after two standout years playing for the Orange County Blues, latched onto a loose corner kick clearance and scored from just outside the AFA box on the 4-minute mark. It was a well-taken goal, and its origin a harbinger of things to come as the Switchbacks ended the contest having won 11 corner kicks.
Deployed at left-back, Suggs’ movement off the ball was impressive in the first half as both he and right-back Davy Armstrong attacked at every available opportunity. The Colorado Springs Switchbacks started the match with the imperious central defensive partnership of JJ Greer and Josh Phillips, and last season’s first-choice goalkeeper Devala Gorrick between the posts.
Gorrick’s athleticism was called upon after 10 minutes as he produced a stunning one-handed save as he rose to tip over a stinging goal-bound effort that was destined for the top corner. Just seconds after Gorrick’s wonder-save, the Switchbacks gave up a goal as the resulting corner kick was turned into the Switchbacks’ net via a back-post header.
The remainder of the first half played out in scrappy fashion, with both teams getting to terms with the physicality of the game after such long layoffs. Switchbacks striker Aaron King was desperately unlucky to see his shot cleared off the line after 36 minutes, and just two minutes later the veteran forward was foiled again. Davy Armstrong and Saeed Robinson combined brilliantly down the Switchbacks’ right hand side after a storming run by Armstrong. Robinson’s whipped cross found Aaron King at the near-post, but his deft flick was well saved.
This free-flowing move by the Switchbacks set up a dominant end to the first half, as the visiting team peppered the Falcons’ goal. Just before the 40 minute mark Miguel Gonzalez, one of the most impressive offensive players of the 2015 USL season, delightfully curled a shot to the far post, only to see it very well saved. Josh Phillips tried his luck just two minutes later, as his left-footed drive from well outside the box was unlucky to only ripple the side netting.
One of the classiest moments of the entire match came right before the halftime interval, as Saeed Robinson produced an outrageous step-over which earned him the space for a cracking drive at goal. Despite easily beating the goalkeeper, the Jamaican’s shot smacked into the bottom of the far post in what was the last real chance of the half.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC Head Coach Steve Trittschuh was not overly thrilled with the tied halftime score, nor in the manner in which his team conceded the equalizing goal. “We created some chances, but I’m unhappy at their goal coming off a re-start. We must improve our defending from set-plays,” said Trittschuh. “We are trying new players and we want to settle in players before our first game [March 26 vs. OKC Energy] so this has been a competitive first-half,” said the coach at the halftime interval.
The Switchbacks changed the entire team at the halftime interval, with Nate Robinson and Jordan Burt occupying the two wing back positions. Air Force Academy graduate, and active duty Air Force officer Kevin Durr came into central defense, with veteran Shintaro Harada holding in central midfield after a commanding first half performance from Rony Argueta. Jacob Cawsey was inserted into a more offensive midfield role at the expense of Switchbacks FC captain Luke Vercollone, while Marty Mabin took over as the lone striker. Mike Seth was also introduced at the break, as was the Switchbacks’ new goalkeeping signing Billy Thompson.
Nate Robinson, who finished the 2015 USL season in outstanding form, cut inside from his left back position after 53 minutes to fire the Switchbacks into the lead. After dropping his shoulder and expertly controlling his dribble past an AFA defender, Robinson arrowed his shot to the far corner for what turned out to the game-winner. It was an expertly taken goal by Nate Robinson, who along with right back Jordan Burt excelled throughout their second half run-out.
Just after the hour mark Switchbacks FC goalkeeper Billy Thompson used all of his massive frame to claw away a cross that was dangerously caught in the wind and found itself goal-bound. It was a fantastic save, both given the weather conditions and the fact he was rarely called upon at the start of the second half.
Jordan Burt did brilliantly well to win the Switchbacks a corner kick on 74 minutes after a typically industrious run down the right wing, but the tenth corner of the match for the Switchbacks was well cleared by the AFA Falcons. Six minutes later Nate Robinson tried to replicate his goal by once again cutting in from the left, only to see his latest shot saved.
In a frenetic end to the match both teams saw chances. JJ Greer made a miraculous goal-saving sliding tackle, while Billy Thompson produced another fine save to deny a game-tying goal. Aaron King tried desperately to get his name on the score sheet with a lobbed effort, while Mike Seth forced a fine save after some tricky footwork left him behind the Air Force Academy defense.
With the Cadet Soccer Stadium sitting at almost 7,300 feet on the beautiful grounds of the Air Force Academy, many players talked about feeling the altitude after the match. Despite Switchbacks Stadium being the highest professional soccer field in the United States at 6, 531 feet above sea level, the rise in altitude at the Air Force Academy and the brutal winds sweeping in off the mountains provided a real physical test for players on both teams.
Saeed Robinson remarked on the altitude after the match, “It’s tough up here – even higher than we are used to. We can do a lot better, as individuals and as a team, but it was good to play up here for sure.” Switchbacks Head Coach Steve Trittschuh mentioned the conditions, but refused to blame them for his team’s lack of goals. “There were heavy legs, for sure. I told the players: Let’s get rid of this game, let’s use it and build on it. We lacked sharpness in the final third…We’ve got six more [preseason] games to build, and I’m happy because we’re ahead of where we were at this time last year. But we want more.”
Trittschuh’s sentiment was echoed by Devala Gorrick, who said, “There are a lot of positives today. We’re ahead of the game for this time of the preseason.”
Midfielder Jacob Cawsey also mentioned the conditions post-match. “It was a great workout, especially at this altitude. It was a good game, and I’m new so it’s about trying my best to pick up how the team plays,” said Cawsey.
With 2-1 in the Switchbacks’ favor perhaps a fair result, it was definitely a special occasion for Switchbacks standout Kevin Durr on his return to the Air Force Academy. “It was a good game, and we’re all still getting into the flow,” said Durr. “It feels great to be back.”
Air Force Academy Head Coach Doug Hill, while wishing his team had found the tying goal, was thrilled with the opportunity to face off against the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. “It’s a great opportunity for us to play a professional team that possess the ball a lot more,” said Hill before adding, “I thought our organization behind the ball was good, and it was a good game for both teams.”
A 1983 Air Force Academy graduate, Head Coach Hill has worked with the Falcons soccer team for more than twenty years and knows the sports landscape of Colorado Springs as well as anyone. When asked about having the Switchbacks in town, Hill couldn’t hide his delight: “It’s great having them [Switchbacks FC] in this city. We already have, and we want to keep a great relationship with them.”
Tag(s): Match Review