The Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC began home play in the USL on Saturday under picture-perfect springtime Rocky Mountain sunshine. Facing off against a fellow newcomer to the USL in Oklahoma City Energy FC, the Switchbacks were playing their second ever league match after a 2-0 loss last weekend against the Austin Aztex.
Oklahoma City Energy FC started with considerable size and strength in their team, with striker Danni Konig joining defenders Cyprian Hendrick and Gareth Evans to form an imposing challenge to the Switchbacks – especially from set pieces.
Switchbacks FC Head Coach Steve Trittschuh named a starting XI that possessed plenty of size itself, with formidable central defender Kareem Smith tasked with marking Energy FC’s Konig. As he did last week in Texas, striker Aaron King kept his place as the focal point of the Switchbacks’ attack. Marty Mabin supported King wide on the right hand side, while Miguel Gonzalez was deployed on the home teams’ left flank. Mike Seth started in the #9 hole just behind Aaron King, while Luke Vercollone and Shintaro Harada were tasked with screening just in front of the Switchbacks’ back four.
JJ Greer partnered the aforementioned Kareem Smith in central defense, while Samir Badr was named the starting goalkeeper for the second straight game. It was a special occasion for Badr, as the rangy net-minder was Energy FC’s starter for much of the 2014 USL season.
The visitors to Sand Creek Stadium started as the brighter team, with Kareem Smith pressured into a risky back-pass which in turn forced Badr into an awkward save at his near post inside the opening 10 minutes.
Badr was again tested, this time after a quarter of an hour, with another smart stop at his short post. Throughout the match Badr commanded his box well from Energy FC corner kicks, although the Switchbacks FC’s goalkeeper was eventually unlucky and Energy FC scored the winning goal.
The opening 15 minutes of the match played out in a scrappy and undistinguished fashion, with both teams snatching at half-chances. Energy FC began to step further and further up field, resulting in the Switchbacks’ central tandem of Vercollone and Harada having to play just in front of their defensive line.
In the 34th minute, Energy FC took a deserved lead. Jesus Sanchez fired a wicked shot on goal which beat Badr, and after crashing against the confluence of the post and bar, the ball fell kindly to Energy FC’s Danni Konig who calmly tapped his header into the Switcbacks’ open net.
Konig had a glorious chance in the first half to extend their lead, as he jigged his way down the Switchbacks’ right flank before his bended, curling shot whipped just wide of Badr’s left-handed post.
The home teams’ best first-half chance came just before the halftime whistle, as Aaron King found himself in acres of space behind the Energy FC defense, but the striker was unable to find the net as visiting defense quickly swarmed over the isolated frontman.
The second half started in similar scrappy fashion to the first, with Kareem Smith making a fantastic challenge just after the hour mark that prevented a clear scoring chance for Energy FC.
Vercollone was the Switchbacks’ key figure in the second half, with the central midfielder running the show for the home team. He started a classic counter-attack in the 48th minute which was snuffed out by Energy FC, while in the 54th minute he picked up an ankle injury which slowed the box-to-box man; but Vercollone stayed on to finish the match – his 101st in modern-era USL.
The game was irrevocably changed in the 57th minute. In a bizarre scene right in front of the benches, three yellow cards were simultaneously handed out with two of those going to the Switchbacks FC. Jordan Burt was given a second yellow card for unsportsmanlike behavior, while Energy FC’s Gareth Evans was also cautioned. Evans became the pantomime villain at Sand Creek Stadium, with the Switchbacks’ fans booing the Welsh midfielder at every chance.
With the Switchbacks down to 10-men, Energy FC began to exert their influence on proceedings, but with credit to the Switchbacks their chances were few and far between.
In the 67th minute, the Switchbacks made Colorado sport’s history with their first-ever USL goal. Miguel Gonzalez, who was a constant thorn in Energy FC’s side, played in Mike Smith, and the Switchbacks’ #12 fired the home team level. Sand Creek Stadium erupted, and it was no more than the Switchbacks deserved after an all-out display of physical soccer over the opening hour.
The joy of the teams’ first-ever regular-season goal was brutally snuffed-out for the Switchbacks, as in stoppage time the Energy FC scored the winning goal. After a Switchbacks’ corner, the Energy FC found quickly themselves pressuring the home teams’ goal, and Danni Konig was the beneficiary of some glaring miscommunications among the Switchbacks’ defense. ‘Keeper Badr hesitated in coming off his line after a scrappy series of attempted clearances, and Konig was the right man in the right position again as the Dane poked home a winner which left the sell-out Switchbacks’ crowd in utter disbelief.
It was a brutally harsh goal for the Switchbacks to concede, and although their disjointed but spirited performance perhaps didn’t warrant a win, they did more than enough to earn a tie. Playing for over half-an-hour down a player, and with Energy FC taking the lead, it was an especially strong performance by the Switchbacks to get themselves back into the match. After fighting their way level, it was nothing short of soul-crushingly harsh for the home side to lose with almost the last kick of the ball.
The Switchbacks will begin a back-to-back series with Salt Lake City’s Real Monarchs next Saturday afternoon in Utah, with the return game to be played Friday, April 17th, 7:00pm at Sand Creek Stadium. It will be another chance for the Switchbacks to earn their first home win, and after today’s performance and fan-turnout there is immense room for optimism that the Switchbacks will record a win that will eventually be viewed as the first among many.