Colorado Springs, CO (March 24, 2016) In perhaps the marquee Week One matchup in the USL’s Western Conference, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC travel southeast to take on the club that ended their magical inauguration season of 2015: Oklahoma City Energy FC.
This weekend’s game in Oklahoma’s capital city will no doubt feature a tinge of revenge for the Switchbacks who endured a winless three-match 2015 against the Energy FC.
The first ever USL match played at Switchbacks Stadium ended in a 2-1 victory for the Energy FC on April 4th of last year. A pulsating 3-3 draw was contested on the penultimate match-day of the regular season on September 12th in Oklahoma City.
A 2-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders FC 2 in the First Round of the Western Conference Playoffs set the Switchbacks on their way to a showdown game at Taft Stadium in Oklahoma City, after the Energy FC earned a First-Round bye. Extra time wasn’t enough to separate the USL Western Conference rivals who finished tied at 2-2. OKC Energy FC eventually prevailed on penalty kicks to end the Switchbacks’ season in heartbreaking fashion.
Oklahoma City Energy’s season ended a week later as they fell 2-1 to the Los Angeles Galaxy II in the Western Conference Finals.
For the 2016 USL regular season, the Energy FC return two of the most feared players in the league. Danish striker Danni König, named to the 2015 USL All-League First Team, will spearhead an OKC attack that relies heavily upon the distribution of Welsh midfielder Gareth Evans. Evans, who was rewarded for a fantastic 2015 season with a place on the 2015 USL All-League Second Team, is a deep-lying midfielder who acts as the fulcrum of a potent Energy FC offense.
Both König and Evans were on the minds of the Switchbacks’ coaches and players during preparation for the trip of Oklahoma City. “Danni König is hard to stop,” said Switchbacks captain Luke Vercollone before adding, “he’s a great finisher with good speed.”
Vercollone’s midfield partner Rony Argueta echoed the comments of his captain with regard to König. “We’ve got to keep König in front of us,” insisted Argueta. “He’s fast, he can finish…we can’t let him in behind or he’ll hurt us.”
Switchbacks Head Coach Steve Trittschuh, while clearly aware of the dangers posed by Evans and König, wouldn’t be drawn into focusing on just those two players. “We can’t worry about Evans and König and nobody else,” warned Trittschuh. “We have to pay attention to them and be aware, but we must play our game…They [OKC] have a lot of players to keep our eyes on.”
Head Coach Trittschuh praised the Switchbacks’ defensive partnership of Josh Phillips and JJ Greer for their performances against OKC Energy last season. “Josh and JJ did great to keep Köning from hurting us,” said Trittschuh, before pausing and adding, “but he’s very dangerous.”
Despite the aforementioned feeling of revenge inevitably being a motivational factor for the Switchbacks against the Energy, not a single player or coach cited it as paramount in their pre-match preparation. “Our focus is on this match,” insisted Davy Armstrong. “We’ve got to start off the season in the right way. This is a team we really want to beat after last year where we tied them twice and lost on PK’s.”
Veteran midfield Shintaro Harada made clear his feelings on the revenge factor ahead of this weekend’s match. “We will try our best to win this year’s game. We don’t look for revenge,” said Harada. “Winning there – that’s revenge enough.”
Head Coach Steve Trittschuh couldn’t have made his feelings on the subject of retribution any clearer; “I’ve told our players from the beginning; last year is over. We must be better and we must focus on ourselves. Emotions will be high. We may well have ten to fifteen minutes of crazy to start the game, but then we have to settle it down and get the result.”
In addition to avenging last season’s results against the Energy, the environment of a packed Taft Stadium adds an extra dollop of intrigue to an otherwise fascinating Week One game. “It’s hard to play there,” said Shin Harada. “It’s a total away-game experience. We have to enjoy it and enjoy their fans. We don’t take pressure from the crowd; we use it for our own fire.”
When asked about the near 8,000-seat capacity at Taft Stadium, goalkeeper Devala Gorrick was quick to recognize its importance. “I expect a battle from kickoff to the 90th minute,” said Gorrick. “There will be a lot of passion in Oklahoma City.”
Rony Argueta mirrored Gorrick’s battle cry. “It’s going to be a battle. We have to go out and fight, while staying organized as a team,” said the Switchbacks’ defensive midfielder. “We’re still feeling the pain from last season – we still have that sting. We need to build off it and use it.”
One of the most positive reinforcements for Switchbacks fans, ahead of both the difficult trip to Oklahoma City and the team’s sophomore season, is the fact that the core of the team has remained in Colorado Springs. The Switchbacks return the entire spine of 2015’s squad, starting with Devala Gorrick in goal. Josh Phillips and JJ Greer partnered brilliantly in defense during preseason, with the midfield trio of Rony Argueta, Shintaro Harada and captain Luke Vercollone looking as confident and dangerous as ever.
Jacob Cawsey further strengthens the midfield with his defensive capability and his talent for quick ball distribution. Kevin Durr’s versatility and work ethic give the Switchbacks defense much needed depth.
Miguel Gonzalez, Saeed Robinson, and Mike Seth provide width, speed, and attacking flair while Jordan Burt, Davy Armstrong, Nate Robinson and newcomer Josh Suggs add great class to the Switchbacks’ full back options. Aaron King and Marty Maybin can both adeptly lead the Switchbacks from the forward position, and Maybin showed great promise in the preseason when deployed in a wide attacking role.
South Korean midfielders Taewoo Kim and Taeseong Kim bring steel and class to the center of the field for the Switchbacks. Billy Thompson and Dan Jackson give Steve Trittschuh as deep and strong a goalkeeping collection as any team in the USL.
A very positive preseason campaign has the Switchbacks not only confident ahead of their journey to Oklahoma City, but also with a full compliment of players to choose from. “I feel very confident heading into a tough place to play,” said Luke Vercollone. “We all had a great preseason and we’re feeling prepared. Also, we take a lot from last year both in their style of play and their stadium.”
“We’ve got everyone healthy coming out of a strong preseason,” declared Head Coach Trittschuh. “We’re doing well – we’ve been playing well and playing our game.”
When pressed on specifics for defeating OKC Energy, Vercollone kept his cards close to his chest: “We’re focused on our game. We must play our style and play tough team defense.”
“Compared to last year we’re better,” said Rony Argueta, before adding, “We need to match OKC’s energy and play our game. It’s exciting – this game could set the tone for our season.”
With Saturday’s game being the first of the 2016 USL regular season for both squads, it’s difficult to pinpoint both starting XI’s and specific tactics. Despite this, and after last year’s three contests, there remains a passion, pride, and excitement within the Switchbacks to finally begin their USL campaign. A positive result in Oklahoma City, while nowhere near critical to the overall outcome of 2016, will doubtless serve as a template for what looks to be a strong second season for the team from Colorado’s second city.
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