This Saturday two teams in the top 4 of the USL’s Western Conference face off at Switchbacks Stadium as the Colorado Springs Switchbacks host Saint Louis FC. The first and only meeting between the Switchbacks and Saint Louis FC came on June 19th of the 2015 season, with the Switchbacks earning a narrow 1-0 victory at World Wide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton, Missouri thanks to a 15th minute Rony Argueta goal.
Having not visited Switchbacks Stadium last season, Saturday will be Saint Louis FC’s first test of the Colorado Springs altitude – a factor the Switchbacks will hope to use to their advantage. “We have to focus on ourselves at home,” said Jordan Burt. “We need to press Saint Louis, win every battle, and play strong and together – that way results take care of themselves. We need to come out full steam ahead and show Saint Louis what almost 7,000 feet is like.”
“It’s always good to play up here, in front of our home fans,” said Davy Armstrong. “We’ve got a great home record and we all want to keep that as strong as possible. It’s always good to play in front of our fans, and personally I’m blessed to be able to play in these games. We have to take every game seriously, especially at home. It’s up to us to not change our preparation and come out ready – Saint Louis is a very good team.”
Just three points behind the Switchbacks in the USL’s Western Conference, Saint Louis have seen a rapid improvement in performances and results after a shaky start saw them lose their first two matches of 2016. A priceless 1-0 win for Saint Louis FC in California against Sacramento Republic on April 23rd was followed by a 3-0 takedown of Swope Park Rangers in Missouri. Five goals against the Tulsa Roughnecks FC saw Saint Louis FC run away as 5-2 victors on May 21st, before back-to-back draws curtailed their forward momentum.
“Saint Louis are a really good team and they’re doing well this season,” said Switchbacks defender Christian Ibeagha. “We are always excited to play the best teams and we need to win these games because our goal is to win the West. We’re doing well now and we’re in good form. It’s business as usual for us so it’s time to defend our home field against Saint Louis.”
Striker Irvin Herrera has led Saint Louis FC’s attacking line brilliantly this season, with four of his six goals coming in the aforementioned 5-2 win over the Tulsa Roughnecks FC. “We’ve got to track Herrera and we can’t just let him run,” warned Switchbacks Head Coach Steve Trittschuh. “He’s got a great shot – especially with his left foot and we have to make sure our center backs take care of him and stay focused because he’ll go anywhere. He drops back into the midfield, he goes out wide…he’s got to be tracked. But it’s not all about Herrera. Saint Louis has a very balanced team, the outside backs attack, and they all work well together. There aren’t a lot of weaknesses in their game so we have to prepare even harder.”
Midfielder’s Vince Cicciarelli and Jamiel Hardware are two players who are central to Saint Louis FC Head Coach Dale Schilly’s plans. With three goals this season to his name, Cicciarelli is an influential midfielder who is at his best when dictating the attack.
Jamaican Jamiel Hardware has tons of USL experience, having played for the Harrisburg City Islanders before his move to Missouri and the Gateway to the West. Sitting just behind lone striker Irvin Herrera, Hardware is an irreplaceable attacking link for Saint Louis FC. With a potent forward four that adds Mike Ambersley and Brandon Barklage to Herrera and Hardware, Saint Louis have scored 16 goals in USL play this season.
“We need to keep up our defensive performance. If we play good defense against Saint Louis I know we’ll score goals and we need to build on the defensive momentum from Arizona,” said Head Coach Steve Trittschuh when asked about the 3-0 victory over Arizona United in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night. “I hope we do as well against Saint Louis as we did versus Arizona. Hats off to the guys who played in Arizona – there were a lot of changes. Now we need to carry that momentum into Saint Louis and win games the way we should at home. It’s up to us to put on a good show for our fans and I know we can do that.”
It’s no mistake that defense is the name of the Switchbacks’ pre-game preparation ahead of Saturday’s visit by Saint Louis FC, both due to the dangers posed by this weekend’s visitors and the rear-guard excellence shown by the Switchbacks on Wednesday night. A much-changed lineup saw the Switchbacks move past USL rivals Arizona United and into the Fourth Round of the U.S. Open Cup, as two goals from Switchbacks captain Luke Vercollone and a fine solo effort from Aaron King was more than enough offense for a Switchbacks team that started five defenders.
The start of the 2016 season saw a commanding partnership formed at the heart of the Switchbacks defense between central defenders Christian Ibeagha and Josh Phillips. A recent injury to Phillips saw JJ Greer slot in alongside Ibeagha, and the new-look center back duo excelled against the Orange County Blues on May 27th. “When JJ was brought on in the last game it was a seamless transition for me,” said Ibeagha. “JJ and I did great together. We have a really deep team here, and whenever one player goes down the rest of the players step in and step up. The communication between JJ and I is great and we’ve been playing on the same page together and we’ll work hard so that continues this weekend.”
“We need to do what we do well and that’s stay together defensively,” said Steve Trittschuh. “We rested some legs against Arizona in the Cup and we played different tactically. We frustrated Arizona and we stuck together and we won – but the league is the most important thing to us. Tomorrow let’s keep up the tempo and play our game the way we know how…you never know; maybe Saint Louis will wilt a little in the altitude.”
Using the altitude and home fan base to their advantage has helped the Switchbacks remain unbeaten at Switchbacks Stadium to start the 2016 season. Having only given up one goal at Switchbacks Stadium – a stoppage time penalty kick to the Orange County Blues FC – excitement among the Switchbacks players was high as they returned to action in Colorado Springs. “We all want to continue the unbeaten run at home,” stressed striker Marty Maybin. “This game will be the biggest test of the season so far and we really want to play in these big games at home. Personally I’m raring to go and if we all listen to what the coaches have said then we’ll win the game.”
“Saint Louis have good players and a good attack and they’re playing together and well so we have to be ready for anything,” said winger Miguel Gonzalez. “I feel fresh and we have no excuses as a team. We have to win games at home. We’ve got good momentum from the Cup win and we’ve been playing really well in our last few games and now we take that to Saturday.”
Despite the clean sheet heroics of Billy Thompson in midweek against Arizona United, Switchbacks goalkeeper Devala Gorrick will no doubt be hopeful of a recall to the starting XI for the visit of Saint Louis FC. “Listen; they’re a very good and organized USL team,” said Gorrick when asked about Saturday and a potential return to the starting lineup. “Our focus as a team is on Saint Louis – they’ve got good players who can make a difference in this league…but we need to win because we’re way too good to let teams come in to our house and take points from us.”
“I’m confident we can win,” said Jordan Burt. “They’ve got a lot of talent, and this will be a good test for all of us. But we’ve got a good game plan, we’ve got the momentum and we need to build off it. We’re at home, and that could help make the difference.”
Tag(s): Vargish's View