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Preview: Switchbacks FC Home Opener vs. Arizona United April 9

By Roland Vargish, 04/06/16, 2:00PM MDT

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Colorado Springs, CO (April 6, 2016) – After more than six months without a home USL match, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC will finally return to Switchbacks Stadium on Saturday afternoon to face Arizona United SC. 

A precious 2-1 road win against Oklahoma City Energy FC on March 26th gave the Switchbacks a near-perfect start to the 2016 campaign.  Since the Switchbacks’ season opener, Arizona United have played three matches in the USL with varying degrees of success.  With their first five games taking place away from the cozy confines of the Peoria Sports Complex in the Valley of the Sun, Arizona United were tasked with a mightily difficult three-game West Coast road trip before heading to Colorado Springs.

Opening the season against 2015’s USL Western Conference Champions Los Angeles Galaxy II, Arizona United were ultimately unable to recover from conceding two first half goals as they fell 2-0 at the Stub Hub Center in Carson, California.  Four days later United made history with their first-ever win in Washington State as they condemned Seattle Sounders FC 2 to a 2-0 defeat.  A goal and assist by standout striker Chris Cortez was more than enough offensive production for Arizona to hold on to the win, as they comprehensively defended against a Sounders 2 team who have lost all three of their USL matches in 2016.

On April 2nd, Arizona United fell 1-0 to Sacramento Republic FC at Bonney Field in California’s capital city, in a match that preserved Sacramento’s perfect USL start.

While Arizona United have been earning their frequent flier miles on America’s West Coast, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks have been training at altitude in Colorado’s famously unpredictable spring weather.  Mild and warm conditions are predicted in Colorado’s second city for Saturday’s Switchbacks home opener, with a newly refurbished and expanded Switchbacks Stadium ready to host an Arizona United team that lost 5-0 to the Switchbacks in Colorado Springs in May of 2015.

The 5-0 destruction of Arizona United tied for the largest home win of the 2015 USL season, with the Switchbacks also defeating Orange County Blues FC by the same score line in late June.  Much has changed for Arizona since that game, with new Head Coach Frank Yallop bringing a wealth of experience to United SC.  Twice a winner of the MLS Cup and a two-time recipient of the MLS Coach of the Year Award, Yallop played professionally in England with Ipswich Town before moving stateside to represent the Tampa Bay Mutiny.  English-born, Yallop both played for and managed Canada at international level, with his last coaching stop before Arizona United coming as the Head Coach of MLS’ Chicago Fire.

Switchbacks Head Coach Steve Trittschuh believes his counterpart Yallop has given United SC a strong foundation.  “Frank has them organized, that’s for sure,” said former United States international Trittschuh.  “They’ve improved every game that they have played, and we’ve got to be ready for them.”

Striker Marty Maybin, fresh off scoring the opening goal against Oklahoma City Energy FC, doesn’t take much stock in last season’s 5-0 win and believes this year’s United SC will pose a real test for the Switchbacks.  “We’re going to get their best game.  We’ve got a target on our back after last year, but we’re all prepared and ready to go for Saturday,” said Belfast-born Maybin.

With a fully healthy squad to choose from, Head Coach Steve Trittschuh has an abundance of options at his disposal from which to choose his starting XI, and believes the extra week since the win in Oklahoma City has come at the perfect time.  “It was good for us to get that time,” said Trittschuh.  “We had a few niggling injuries, but everyone is healthy now and ready to play against Arizona.”

One of four players to make their debuts for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks against OKC Energy, midfielder Jacob Cawsey will no doubt be pushing for a start this Saturday.  The young man from Scunthorpe, England echoed his Head Coach’s comments when asked about the two weeks of preparation.  “We’re all so excited after OKC,” said Cawsey.  “The extra week has only added to the buzz and I can’t wait for Saturday.  The club is growing so much and it’s brilliant to be a part of it.”

Arizona United has a roster that’s brimming with talent and experience.  Chinese striker Long Tan was named to the 2015 USL All-League First Team, and he’s the club’s all-time leading goal scorer with nineteen goals to his name after just two seasons.  So far this campaign Tan has been relegated to a substitute role due to the form of Chris Cortez.  After three seasons with the USL’s Orange County Blues FC, Cortez joined Arizona United SC in late March of 2016 and has so far proved his worth across the forward line.  Equally adept as a central striker or drifting into wider attacking positions, Cortez will no doubt be the central offensive threat for Arizona United on Saturday.  With Tan and fellow forward Sam Garza, Arizona has a potent strike-force that relies upon the midfield distribution of Scottsdale, Arizona native Blair Gavin.

Chris Cortez was named to the bench of the USL’s Team of the Week on April 5th, with the Switchbacks missing out on any nominations as they had an additional week off after the match in Oklahoma City.

Julian Ringhof, who broke onto the professional scene with 2015 USL Champions Rochester Rhinos, anchors the defense of Arizona United.  Hailing from Freiburg on the edge of Germany’s beautiful Black Forest, Ringhof is a commanding and powerful defender who forms a formidable defensive backline along with Daniel Antùnez.  Uchenna Uzo and Brock Granger round-out United’s four-man defense, with Head Coach Frank Yallop having the luxury of versatile veteran Scott Morrison and youngster Nick Costa as defensive reinforcements.  Morrison is dynamic left back who also thrives as a winger and has the pace and experience to cause the Switchbacks problems.

Switchbacks right back Jordan Burt believes the opening match at Switchbacks Stadium could well see his team cement their stadium as one of the most daunting to visit in the USL.  “We got the season off on the right foot [in OKC],” said the always-barnstorming Burt.  “We have one of the best home field advantages in the country and we want to win every home game.”

When asked directly about the challenge posed by a new-look United SC team, Burt didn’t waste any words.  “They’re better than last year, no doubt,” said Burt.  “We have to focus on what we do best and let the result take care of itself.”

Competition within the Switchbacks for starting places is one of a number of interesting storylines heading into Saturday’s match, with an off-season injection of talent giving the Switchbacks’ coaching staff any number of possible starting lineups.  “Starters and non-starters alike, everyone shows a ton of grit and passion, and everyone shows it day in and day out,” said Jordan Burt, before adding, “Every practice your spot is up for grabs so know we have to bring it.”

The fight for places was not lost on Jacob Cawsey, and while a new addition to the Switchbacks, the midfielder is well aware of the strength in depth.  “There’s tough competition for places,” said Cawsey.  “Players bring new and different things, and we’ve got a great eleven and a great squad in total.”

A return to Switchbacks Stadium, while over half a year in coming, elicited the most passionate response among players and coaches alike. “I’m absolutely buzzing to be home, especially after our first big win,” said a beaming Maybin.  “We’ve got to worry about our game and our play and I think we’ll do well.”

Head Coach Steve Trittschuh was equally thrilled to finally be getting the season at Switchbacks Stadium underway: “After this weekend’s game everything starts to roll with our schedule,” said Trittschuh.  “Our guys are ready to go and really excited to play in front of our fans and on our home field.”