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Preview: Undefeated Switchbacks Take on Seattle Sounders 2 on Sunday

By Roland Vargish, 04/15/16, 12:00PM MDT

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Colorado Springs, CO (April 15, 2016) -Top of the USL’s Week 3 Power Rankings and undefeated on the young 2016 season, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC head to the Pacific Northwest this weekend with a victory against the Seattle Sounders FC 2 squarely in their sights.

It’s been a desperately disappointing start to the 2016 campaign for both versions of the Seattle Sounders; as the Major League Soccer squad sit bottom of the Western ConUnference after five games, while the USL’s Sounders FC 2 have managed only a solitary point from four matches and have the worst goal differential in the entire league.

The early struggles for the Sounders organization come as a shock to most across America’s soccer landscape, as both the Sounders and Sounders 2 made the playoffs in 2015.  The Sounders fell in MLS’ Conference Semifinals to FC Dallas, while the Sounders 2 were beaten 2-0 by the Switchbacks at Switchbacks Stadium on September 25th in the First Round of the USL Western Conference Playoffs.

All three meetings between the Switchbacks and Sounders 2 came in the second half of the 2015 season.  A hard-fought 1-1 draw on July 18th at Switchbacks Stadium was followed by a 3-2 win for the Sounders 2 on August 19th at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington.  The conditions just after midday were a struggle for both teams as the Switchbacks eventually fell to a second half brace by S2 forward Myron Samuel.  Miguel Gonzalez had given the Switchbacks an early lead that they held into the second half, while Aaron King scored a late consolation in injury time.  A hotly contested game opened the Switchbacks’ 2015 USL Playoff run as goals by Gonzalez and JJ Greer and a commanding performance from goalkeeper Devala Gorrick saw the Switchbacks shutout S2 in Colorado Springs.

Despite their tepid start to the 2016 season, Sounders 2 will no doubt be out to avenge last year’s playoff loss.  “They want to get a win no matter who it’s against,” declared Switchbacks defender Nate Robinson, before adding, “we’re in great spirits as we head up there and we should fully expect to win.”

Switchbacks Head Coach Steve Trittschuh refused to be drawn on the question of reprisal from S2, with his pre-match thoughts falling on his team.  “We’ve got to focus on what we need to do,” said Trittschuh when asked about Sunday’s opponents.  “We have to come to play and be organized defensively.  We need to bring energy to the game and if we play our style I think we should be fine.”

One of the most difficult aspects of the game against Sounders 2 is the sheer uncertainty that surrounds their starting XI.  One of six USL Western Conference clubs that are direct affiliates of an MLS franchise (Swope Park Rangers joined the USL for 2016) the Sounders 2 play a vital role in both the development and fostering of talent which the organization hopes will one day feature in Major League Soccer.  “They’ve [Sounders 2] added a couple of guys, but we won’t know who plays until we get there,” said Head Coach Trittschuh.

Sounders 2 striker Andy Craven is a player who will most likely feature on Sunday against the Switchbacks.  Craven has started all four of S2’s games this season after appearing in 2015 for both S2 and MLS’ Sounders.  An inventive striker possessing quickness of thought and movement, Craven has shown signs of forming what could turn into an effective partnership with fellow forward Victor Mansaray.  Mansaray opened the scoring in S2’s last match, a 2-2 tie with Rio Grande Valley FC on April 12th.  Tuesday’s draw in Tukwila was the fourth of five regular season games for the Sounders 2 to be consecutively played at Starfire Sports Complex, but so far S2 have been unable to take advantage of their home-field start to 2016.

Three shutout losses in a row – to Sacramento Republic FC, Arizona United SC, and San Antonio FC – started the season on disastrous footing for the Sounders 2, before they were able to salvage the late draw against the RGVFC Toros on Tuesday evening.

A late addition to Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson’s Seattle Sounders FC 2 roster who may well see his first game action against the Switchbacks on Sunday is newly obtained defender Nouhou Tolo.  A native of Cameroon, Tolo was officially signed by S2 on April 12th, with the announcement of his acquisition coming the next morning.  There have been a lot of changes throughout the S2 defensive unit to begin the season, which may have hastened the arrival of Tolo.

In stark contrast to the start of the Sounders 2 has been that of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks.  Two wins from their first two matches has the Switchbacks just 2 points off the top of the USL’s Western Conference while having played half the number of matches as current leaders Los Angeles Galaxy II.

One of seven new arrivals for the Switchbacks as they entered the 2016 season, Josh Suggs has already proven his worth.  A willing runner who is never shy to overlap his midfield teammates, Suggs’ ability from set pieces gives the Switchbacks great strength in depth as they head to The Emerald City.

Suggs believes that should the Switchbacks reach their full, free-flowing potential in Seattle, three points is inevitable.  “We didn’t play as well as we could [vs. Arizona United] but to get a result is what good teams are all about,” said Suggs.  “We’re kind of on a roll: Play as good as we can and we’ll get a win in Seattle.”

Two Switchbacks players will experience a homecoming as they land in Seattle.  Defender Josh Phillips is a native of Seattle who played collegiately in Spokane, Washington at Gonzaga University.  Miguel Gonzalez grew up just an hour south of Seattle in Yelm, Washington before attending both Peninsula College and Seattle University.  Gonzalez appeared for the Seattle Sounders U-23 squad and he also played professionally with the Kitsap Pumas, located in Bremerton, Washington.

“I try to give my best every game,” said Miguel Gonzalez when asked about playing in his adopted home state.  “It’s a bit more exciting because my family will be there, but I’ve got to have the same intensity and will to win.  I’ll have my whole family there and lots of friends also.  I’m excited to play in front of them and it should be a good game where we go and get the win.”

Josh Phillips admitted that last season’s game against the Sounders 2 in Washington threw off his normal routine.  “I’m excited to see my family as always,” said a beaming Phillips, before pausing to add, “But last year I treated it as far too important.  This year it’s just another game…although I do play my best in front of my friends and family!”

When asked about the impact of playing close to home for Phillips and Gonzalez, Head Coach Steve Trittschuh insisted Sunday’s match wouldn’t be as daunting as in 2015.  “Last year was the first time for Miggy and Josh playing with us there,” said Trittschuh.  “I think they’ll be focused because they’ve been there before and they’re ready to win.”

One of the most important partnerships for the Switchbacks has been that of Phillips and his central defensive teammate Christian Ibeagha.  “We’re always on the same page and I think we’re becoming really hard to play against,” said Ibeagha.  “I’m trying to understand our games and we have progressed really well together – we have a good connection.”

With Phillips and Ibeagha leading the defensive line in front of goalkeeper Devala Gorrick the Switchbacks have only conceded one goal in their first two games.  The defensive ability and work rate of holding midfielder Rony Argueta can’t be overlooked, as Argueta’s shielding of the back four has so far been impeccable.

Argueta, while concentrating most of his thoughts on his own team’s performance, didn’t overlook the revenge factor for S2.  “I feel they’ll come out with everything,” said Argueta.  “They’ve still got that hurt from the playoff game last year, but if we continue to focus on ourselves we’ll be fine.  We need to stay compact, have good movement off the ball, and be ready for Seattle.”

Ibeagha, who has never played before in Seattle, didn’t hide his emotion for his first trip to the Pacific Northwest.  “I’m excited to go to a club like them,” said Ibeagha.  “I don’t know exactly what to expect – they seem to have a pretty good team and they look good.  It’s always good to play in places where so many people watch, and I’m excited to see how we progress there and as the season goes on.”