A perfect start to the preseason continued for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC as they rolled to a 3-1 victory over Colorado State University-Pueblo at the Rawlings Soccer Complex in Pueblo, Colorado.
With its 7 p.m. local-time kickoff, the crisp Colorado night began in perfect fashion for the visiting Switchbacks as captain Luke Vercollone gave his team the lead inside of two minutes. Miguel Gonzalez, who tormented the ThunderWolves’ defense with his every touch, served a pinpoint cross into Vercollone who rose well and nodded the Switchbacks into a lead they held all game.
Gonzalez started the match on the left wing, with striker Marty Maybin leading the offensive line for last season’s third-place finishers in the USL’s Western Conference. Mike Seth began on the right, while Vercollone roamed freely behind Maybin. In central midfield, Rony Argueta and Shintaro Harada screened in front of the central defensive partnership of Josh Phillips and JJ Greer. One week after his impressive performance against the Air Force Academy, Billy Thompson was given the start in goal, as Josh Suggs and Jordan Burt occupied the wing back positions.
There was a marked change in intensity to start the game, as the Switchbacks shook the cobwebs off their slow start against the Air Force Academy and pressed CSU-Pueblo right from the opening whistle. Rony Argueta was imperious in the air, as he won enough headers to personally fill a stat sheet. Argueta’s midfield partner Harada was equally impressive, with his vision and tenacity on full display. Nine minutes into the first half, Harada threaded an immaculate pass between three ThunderWolves defenders and perfectly into the run of a charging Miguel Gonzalez. After cutting inside onto his right foot, Gonzalez was unlucky to see his goal-bound strike well saved low to the CSU-Pueblo goalkeeper’s left.
Always confident in possession, Harada was given the freedom by CSU-Pueblo to drop deep and take the ball out of defense, and the Japanese midfielder quickly became the fulcrum of many a Switchbacks attack.
With just eleven minutes gone in the first half, the Switchbacks doubled their advantage after a brilliant move by Josh Suggs. A lung-bursting run down the left wing offered Suggs a clear path to goal but it was Suggs’ unselfishness which was of true class as he found a lurking Marty Maybin who made no mistake about his finish. It was a fair lead for the Switchbacks, and a much-deserved assist for Suggs who terrorized the CSU-Pueblo defense with his never-ending forward runs. Maybin was unlucky to not find himself on the score sheet just two minutes later as the Belfast native saw his shot creep over the ThunderWolves’ crossbar.
Maybin paid tribute to Suggs’ industry and ability after the match. “Suggs was always working. I [Maybin] was trying to get in and help…I led my man into the box, Suggs saw the pass, made it, and I was left with the easy part,” said Maybin of his goal.
Shin Harada and Marty Maybin were at it again in the fourteenth minute after another brilliant pass from Harada, this time finding Vercollone, was turned just wide by Maybin after an ingenious knock-down off Vercollone’s chest.
Jordan Burt produced one of the standout defensive moments of the opening half for the Switchbacks, as his speed was on full show on the quarter hour mark to prevent a would-be cross reaching the box. The resulting corner kick was cleared by the Switchbacks, with ‘keeper Billy Thompson remaining untested.
Class was once again the name of the game from Josh Suggs, as he showed laudable honesty to stay on his feet after a mistimed challenge in the box that could have easily resulted in a penalty kick for the Switchbacks. After riding the challenge, Suggs whipped in a magical cross, which, after being half-cleared by CSU-Pueblo, was once again laid off by Vercollone – this time to Miguel Gonzalez, who saw his rasping effort blocked. It was another terrific offensive move by the Switchbacks, who were playing with a hunger and cohesiveness that was at times lacking against the Air Force Academy.
“Our speed of play was much better today,” said Switchbacks Head Coach Steve Trittschuh after the match. “We’re creating more chances in the final third of the field, and now we’ve just got to work on putting them all away.”
JJ Greer twice found himself with chances on goal in the opening half. The first came after twenty-six minutes when Marty Maybin won a free kick for the Switchbacks in a menacing position. Suggs curled the ball sumptuously into the box and despite the rather aggressive attention of multiple CSU-Pueblo defenders Greer was able to rise highest only to see his header flash over the bar. At the very end of the half Greer was pushed forward for another Switchbacks set-piece, and this time after expertly controlling the ball off his chest Greer saw his powerful volley well blocked before it reached goal.
Another wonderful offensive interchange between Gonzalez and Maybin saw Vercollone free to strike from outside the box, but the captain’s on-target effort was very well saved low to the CSU-Pueblo goalkeeper’s right.
Mike Seth tried his luck after Suggs took down Jordan Burt’s cross, but Seth was unlucky to see his shot flash just wide of the post.
Josh Phillips, who was consistently on-point with his passing out of defense, displayed his full-speed character with a quarter of an hour left in the first half, as he outrageously won a clearing header over two CSU-Pueblo attackers. Billy Thompson was then called upon for some rather routine catching practice, but the Switchbacks’ goalkeeper could do nothing about CSU-Pueblo’s lone goal.
After a bit of pinball in midfield, CSU-Pueblo broke in numbers and at speed towards an exposed Switchbacks defense and a perfectly angled shot nestled into the side netting. While certainly coming against the run of play, it was a very well taken goal by CSU-Pueblo.
Changes were made en masse to start the second half, as only JJ Greer and captain Luke Vercollone remained on the field. Vercollone was incredibly unlucky to not win his team a penalty kick after the referee judged he was brought down just outside the box despite the protestations of the Switchbacks captain.
Dan Jackson was brought into goal, Kevin Durr partnered Greer in defense, and Davy Armstrong and Nate Robinson took up the wing back slots. Aaron King, brought on for Marty Mabin, combined very well with Saeed Robinson from the moment the second half started.
King, pressing the CSU-Pueblo defenders with every breath, made a well-timed run in behind the ThunderWolves’ back line on fifty-eight minutes, only to see his shot blocked. “When we high-press, we ask questions of their defenders,” said King after the match.
Jacob Cawsey picked up the aerial defensive mantle that Rony Argueta had established in the first half, as the midfielder expertly-timed many clearing headers.
Both Nate Robinson and Davy Armstrong were free to roam forward down their respective touchlines in the second half, although with so many changes from both teams the half was a far scrappier affair than the first.
On seventy-two minutes Cawsey produced an outstanding pass that set Aaron King towards goal, but the striker’s shot was blocked by a desperate combination of defender and goalkeeper. Moments later Saeed Robinson saw his powerful shot well saved, before Aaron King was able to give the Switchbacks the 2-goal cushion their endeavor deserved.
Stepping up from the penalty spot, King made no mistake about his spot-kick as he lashed the ball home low to the CSU-Pueblo ‘keeper’s right. It was just reward for both the Switchbacks and Aaron King, as the constant pressure applied by both deserved a third goal. After the match King described his penalty process, “Keep it simple: pick a spot, make clean contact, and keep it low and hard.”
Despite the ragged-nature of the second half, both Head Coach Trittschuh and his players were happy with the result and how their preseason is progressing. “It was a good exercise for us,” remarked Trittschuh before adding, “They [CSU-Pueblo] play with a lot of intensity, and we need that to get us ready for the season.”
Marty Maybin took the win and the team-effort as a boost after a highly impressive personal performance. “We’re here to get a workout and improve as a group,” said Maybin. “We have plenty to still work on and to tighten up a bit, but we got the win and we’re going to take all the positives from it going forward.”
The focus from players and staff alike after the match was gearing up for the USL opener against Oklahoma City Energy on March 26th. Jacob Cawsey, who put in a terrific second half performance, believes preseason games are setting the Switchbacks up for another impressive season. “We looked a lot stronger and moved the ball well and made great angles for each other,” said the midfielder. “We are making good strides, and come OKC we’ll all be ready.”
Aaron King echoed Cawsey’s sentiments almost exactly after the match: “We feel good, and we’re all chomping at the bit. Players are happier with our speed and we’ll be ready for week one – no doubt about it,” remarked King.
Josh Suggs was one of the standout performers for the Switchbacks against CSU-Pueblo, and the new addition to the Switchbacks’ roster was thrilled with the team’s performance. “It’s great fun getting to play with all these guys. Players like Miguel [Gonzalez] and Josh [Phillips] helped me a lot tonight and it makes it fun to have all these guys on our side; it makes the game come easier,” said Suggs before briefly looking ahead to the Switchbacks’ next preseason game, on Tuesday March 8th against the Colorado School on Mines. “This was a great win, we’re all building together on each practice and each game and we’ll take that forward next week.”
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