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Switchbacks FC Fight for 3-2 Victory Over UCCS

By Roland Vargish, 03/12/16, 3:00PM MST

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(March 12, 2016 – Colorado Springs, CO.) While not the desired free-flowing finale to their home state preseason campaign, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC fought their way to a 3-2 victory over the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs at Switchbacks Stadium.

After three consecutive matches on turf, the Switchbacks got 90 minutes under their belts in what is the only preseason match of 2016 to be played on their home grass.  Now on their way to California to complete preseason preparations ahead of the Week 1 USL showdown against the OKC Energy FC at Taft Stadium in Oklahoma City, the Switchbacks head west with a 5-0 exhibition game record.

Luke Vercollone led his team by example in the late-winter Colorado sunshine, and the Switchbacks’ captain was first on the score sheet after just ten minutes.  After some pinball in the UCCS box, Vercollone pounced and finished well with his left foot.  “I was trying to be in good spots and just be ready,” said Vercollone after the match. “It was a quick finish and thankfully it went in.”

Minutes earlier goalkeeper Devala Gorrick did extremely well to ultimately foil a UCCS attack, as the visitors to Switchbacks Stadium looked to take an early lead.

Fullbacks Jordan Burt and Josh Suggs were a constant presence going forward throughout their hour on the pitch, with both players making seemingly endless overlapping runs in support of the attack.

Josh Phillips was his usual swashbuckling self in central defense as he made a terrific early tackle after twelve minutes, only to see his run up field end without a return pass.  The move was perhaps a precursor of things to come, as the Switchbacks, although fully invested against a stubborn Mountain Lions team, never quite broke into their crisp-passing stride.

Having said that, the Switchbacks doubled their lead after eighteen minutes with a finely taken goal by Mike Seth.  Seth, who started once again on the right side of an attacking trio containing Marty Maybin and Miguel Gonzalez, was the ultimate recipient of some outrageous skill by Luke Vercollone.  Gonzalez flashed a terrific cross into the box from the Switchbacks’ left wing, and with a simple single touch of his instep, Vercollone at once brought the ball under his spell.  It then fell to Seth, whose shot was slightly deflected as it flew past a helpless UCCS goalkeeper, giving the Switchbacks a 2-0 advantage.

Vercollone next went close to doubling his personal tally, as he burst through the UCCS defense only to see his shot skim wide of the right goal post.

To their credit, UCCS gave the Switchbacks a lot to think about defensively, and they got a just reward for their exertion on the twenty-one minute mark.  Striker Josh Berntsson finished crisply at the back post after a fine cross by fellow forward Jake McAllister.

The goal was a wake-up call for the Switchbacks who may have been a touch complacent after jumping out to an early two-goal lead.  Following an ominously positioned UCCS free kick that was cleared, the Switchbacks broke with real menace through Miguel Gonzalez on the left wing, but the move broke down as UCCS swarmed back in defense.

Rony Argueta, who was tasked yet again with holding the Switchbacks’ midfield behind Shintaro Harada and Luke Vercollone, was desperately unlucky to not at least test the UCCS goalkeeper just after the half hour.  After an excellently timed run forward, Argueta found himself in a pocket of space just outside the box, but his sharp left-footed drive was blocked wide for a corner kick.

Just two minutes later the Switchbacks restored their two-goal advantage, with the most eye-catching goal of the match.  Miguel Gonzalez, following a half clearance by UCCS from a corner kick fired a perfectly timed volley with his right foot into the left corner of the UCCS net.  It was no more than Gonzalez personally deserved after another impressive offensive performance.  Despite starting on the left wing, Gonzalez found himself in numerous advantageous offensive positions both in behind and in front of lone striker Marty Maybin.

Gonzalez’s attacking line mates Mike Seth and Marty Maybin both had chances as the half drew closer to its conclusion.  Maybin saw a shot from distance swerve just over the UCCS crossbar, while a Seth header from a great Vercollone cross was unlucky not to test the UCCS ‘keeper.  Seth was a constant nuisance for UCCS with his aerial ability, as he won countless headers and was the focal point of nearly every Switchbacks throw-in with his uncanny ability to ingeniously flick the ball towards an attacking teammate.

The first half came to an end with Josh Suggs unlucky to see his cross blocked before it could reach a fellow Switchback, and Vercollone impressing defensively with a near-post clearance from a UCCS corner kick.

Unlike in previous contests the Switchbacks gave their starters over an hour of game time, as Head Coach Steve Trittschuh looks to extend his players as the USL regular season ticks ever closer.

Mike Seth started the second half as he ended the first.  An offensive threat who constantly worried the UCCS backline, Seth saw a cracking shot desperately blocked by the Mountain Lions just two minutes into the second stanza.

UCCS were awarded a penalty kick just before the hour mark.  Shin Harada, who until that point had spaced himself very well with his midfield partner Rony Argueta, was caught wrong-side and pulled down an onrushing UCCS attacker inside the Switchbacks’ box.

Blake Barnes made no mistake about converting the spot kick for UCCS, as he smashed his finish low and hard to goalkeeper Billy Thompson’s left side.  Thompson, who replaced Gorrick at halftime, could do nothing about the perfectly taken penalty.

The second half was already playing out in a scrappy and disjointed fashion, and this break in cohesion was only furthered as the Switchbacks made eight changes just after an hour.  Josh Phillips and Shin Harada kept their places on the field, as every other outfield player was substituted.

Nate Robinson came on at left back – a position in which he has really excelled this preseason.  Saeed Robinson, whose pace was an ever-constant threat to a tiring UCCS defense, joined Nate Robinson on the Switchbacks’ left side.  Nate Robinson’s left footed drive was well saved minutes after the UCCS goalkeeper also corralled a curling effort from Josh Phillips.

Kevin Durr, now partnering Phillips at the heart of the Switchbacks’ defense, had an impressive last half hour to the match as the active duty Air Force Lieutenant did admirably to usher an onrushing UCCS attacker to the touchline without giving away so much as a corner.

A brilliant one-two combination between Jacob Cawsey and Aaron King sprung King in behind the Mountain Lions’ defense, but King was unlucky to see the chance spurned as the UCCS goalkeeper dove bravely at his feet.

Perhaps the best moment of individual class came from right back Davy Armstrong.  Picking up the ball almost forty yards from goal, Armstrong struck a wicked dipping drive that careened into the crossbar; leaving the UCCS goalkeeper relieved and Armstrong with his head in his hands.  It was a piece of brilliance that was all too lacking in the second half, as a fractured game petered out with few scoring chances of note.

Saeed Robinson gave the Switchbacks’ loyal fans something to cheer after a delightful bit of skill opened an alley towards goal; but his eventual shot was saved.  Billy Thompson produced a great save with just five minutes remaining to ensure the Switchbacks’ victory, with Nate Robinson, Aaron King, and Mike Seth all contributing offensively without finding a fourth goal.

Captain Luke Vercollone was less than thrilled with the Switchbacks’ showing after the match.  “The first half we were good, and in the second we were not nearly as good as we should be,” lamented Vercollone.   “I’m not pleased overall.”

Always the consummate professional, Vercollone went on to portion some of the blame on the team performance at his own feet, while giving the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs their fair due.  “Individually we were ok – not as good as we should be, me of course included…and we have to credit UCCS for creating chances,” said Vercollone.

The match against UCCS gave Josh Phillips the full game, and while disappointed with the one-goal win, Phillips looked to build on the performance as the regular season approaches.  “I’m excited to get 90 [minutes] and for the training this week.  We’ve got to keep progressing as a team and individually, and we must come out showing mental toughness,” said the defender who spent the winter training with the New England Revolution of MLS.  “Each game [in USL] is going to be a battle, and we need to bring it.  We need to take the game to every team that comes here.”

Goalkeeper Billy Thompson was happy to be playing at Switchbacks Stadium, while he also afforded himself a look ahead to the training camp in his native state of California. “It was fun out here in front of the hometown fans for the first time in a Switchbacks uniform for me,” said Thompson post-match, before promising, “As the season goes on we’ll play better for them.”

Switchbacks Head Coach Steve Trittschuh delicately chose his words after the match.  “I was happy with the first half – we created a lot,” said Trittschuh.  “Some guys need to get to the next level.  I’m not happy with some of our play.”

Both coaches and players alike were quick to move on from the disappointing nature of the win against UCCS and look ahead to what should be both a physically demanding and team-bonding preseason trip to California.  “It’s close to the season, we need to come together and play three good games in California,” said Head Coach Trittschuh.  “It will be a telling week out there.”

Billy Thompson, who was clearly looking forward to the time on the West Coast, reiterated the position of his Head Coach.  “California will bring us closer and strengthen the bonds that we’ve already started here,” said Thompson.  “We’ll find out who we really are on the road.  Home games are easier, but road trips together really make the difference.”