By NICHOLAS MURRAY – firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
When the USL’s 2016 schedule was released, it didn’t take long for Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC’s Miguel Gonzalez to circle the opening game of the season.
“Definitely getting that win when we start over in Oklahoma where my brother [Daniel] plays,” Gonzalez said recently when discussing the year ahead. “We lost that playoff game to them at their home, so that’s still in the back of our minds. We definitely want to get off to a good start to the season there.”
The Switchbacks’ remarkable first season came to a dramatic end in the Western Conference Semifinals last fall when OKC Energy FC advanced in a penalty shootout following a thrilling 2-2 draw at Taft Stadium. The two teams will renew acquaintances on March 26, with Gonzalez set to be one of the key figures in the rematch.
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The creative forward was one of the breakout players in the USL in 2015, as he adapted well to the step up from the PDL, where he had starred for the Kitsap Pumas the year before. According to Gonzalez, the confidence he brought to the field was built in preseason, as the support he received from Coach Steve Trittschuh and his veteran teammates saw his self-belief soar.
“Once you come in, you come in with a mentality,” he said. “I came in hoping and knowing I could play at this level, but once you get in and start doing good things, you get the confidence from the coach and the players like Luke Vercollone. It gave me the confidence to do well and just play my game. That really helps. Having those teammates around you that give you confidence was one of the biggest things that got me ready for the season.”
Gonzalez’s confidence helped propel him to a season that saw him score 10 goals and add seven assists as the Switchbacks’ combination of youth and experience carried them to a third-place finish in the Western Conference. As strong as the competition within the squad for playing time during the week was, the team’s chemistry proved a crucial element as the club maintained consistency in its performance throughout the year.
“We had a good chemistry on the field and off the field, and everything was positive,” Gonzalez said. “We would compete every practice, we were fighting for spots and making each other better, but we had each other’s backs. When it came to game day, everyone was ready and we were all helping each other out, and that helped out the team. As you could see, we had a good season, and it was very positive.”
With a large contingent of players set to return this season, the Switchbacks should enter the new season as one of the leading contenders in the Western Conference, as Gonzalez looks to push his game to another level. After training this offseason with the Colorado Rapids, Gonzalez hopes the experience he took from those sessions will be evident in his second season at Switchbacks Stadium.
“As you go up, the game becomes faster and smarter, so you definitely want to be more aware on the field and keep my head up,” Gonzalez said. “Knowing the next pass and playing quicker, that’s one of the biggest things I learned from them.”
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As one of the club’s top performers a year ago, Gonzalez quickly became a fan favorite as the Switchbacks’ following grew strongly over the course of its first season. The club added new partnerships off the field this offseason, and earned local recognition for its success on and off the field, leaving Gonzalez excited to get back on the field in front of the Trailheads and the rest of the club’s supporters.
“They really are passionate, and it was our first year last year so we’re definitely hoping that continues to grow,” Gonzalez said. “Hopefully we get more people out this year, and we’ll do what we can on the field, and hopefully that brings them to the stadium.”
As opening night draws near, the emphasis of starting the new season on the right foot is at the front of everyone’s mind in the Switchbacks’ locker room.“Throughout the league you see teams trying to get better, bringing in bigger names to the club, and we definitely don’t want to fall behind,” Gonzalez said. “We can’t fall behind, so we’re definitely working toward being a better team. We want to keep improving throughout the season, and it all starts in preseason, and that’s why we want to start strong.”