By NICHOLAS MURRAY – firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, February 7, 2016
As Colorado Switchbacks FC got set up for its first scrimmage last season, first signing and captain Luke Vercollone had a question for Head Coach Steve Trittschuh.
“When we were going over the formation and everything, I asked coach ‘what’s the line of confrontation?’ meaning when do we start defending,” Vercollone said recently. “It’s usually about midfield, or maybe 10 yards past, and he was like ‘Oh, there isn’t a line. We just step all the way up, pressure wherever we can.’ It was a lot different, a lot different tactics and strategy with Steve, so that was really interesting.”
After nine years in the USL, and the previous seven with the Richmond Kickers, 2015 proved different for Vercollone in a lot of ways. While life with the Switchbacks was different, though, the season was a resounding success for the expansion side, and for Vercollone in particular.
A finalist for the league’s Most Valuable Player award, a shoo-in to the All-League First Team, and one of the centerpieces to a side that finished third in the Western Conference while playing exhilarating soccer throughout the year, Vercollone hit new heights as a player, and a leader.
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“It was awesome,” Vercollone said. “I’ve been around the league for 10 years, and this was my favorite season. It was phenomenal. … It was a unique situation, and we took advantage of it. Between the front office and the coaching staff, everything was new and different, and it had its challenges, but it was awesome overall, really enjoyable.”
The success the club saw on the field was reflected in the stands, as Colorado Springs began to take notice of the new club. While soccer is a relatively new sport to what has for years been a great outdoor destination, the local community quickly got behind the Switchbacks as their entertaining style paid dividends.
This offseason, things have gone from strength to strength, with the club picking up local business awards, and announcing the return of a large contingent of its squad for the new season. That awareness has the city anticipating the Switchbacks’ return to action.
“Whereas at first everyone was skeptical or not sure what to think, when they came out and saw the product the fans loved it,” Vercollone said. “There are signs things are starting to come on, talking with some of the front office staff, sales of season tickets are up significantly from last year, and there’s a lot of positive momentum right now, so that’s real good.”
The process of building toward the new season began this week for Vercollone and his teammates, despite snowy conditions in town. Last season’s success with what was on paper a relatively inexperienced group has built expectations for season two, as the side looks to provide a big encore to its Western Conference Semifinals berth in the 2015 USL Playoffs.
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In particular, eyes will be focused on attacking midfielder Miguel Gonzalez, who provided a sharp attacking edge for the side as he made the step up from the PDL’s Kitsap Pumas. Gonzalez got the chance to train alongside Vercollone with the Colorado Rapids this offseason, and the veteran is enthusiastic about the future his teammate could have in front of him.
“Miguel is phenomenal, and I think he’s MLS material,” Vercollone said. “I think he maybe does need one more year of grooming a little bit, which will be this year, but he’s certainly a super-talented player, high quality. I really think he should be in MLS. It’s great to see his growth, but not only his but guys like Josh Phillips, and Jordan Burt, and JJ Greer and the other young guys stepping up. The way that we train is very intense and very high energy, so that breeds improvement over the course of the season, and we were able to see that clearly, especially with Miguel.”
With a rematch of last season’s conference semifinal against OKC Energy FC in their season opener now seven weeks away, Vercollone is ready to get back into action.
“I’m just looking forward to getting on the field and playing,” Vercollone said. “I’m going to take it one day at a time. I’m excited to see what our team is capable of, and how far we can take it this year, but I’m pretty focused on myself right now and being sharp, and putting my best foot forward for preseason.”