Colorado Springs coach Steve Trittschuh went into this offseason looking to turn the Switchbacks into a mentally tougher team.
He expects an important piece to that puzzle to be center midfielder Chris James, 29, who is one of nine new players as practice opens Wednesday.
"It was a busy offseason," coach Steve Trittschuh said. "I knew we were going to lose a lot of guys and we were trying to find guys to replace them who would make us better.
"I watched a lot of film on Chris and I could see he was the type of player we needed to really solidify our middle," Trittschuh added. "Through his leadership and play I could see he had the characteristic we have been lacking - mental toughness. Some of the other new guys will bring that in as well."
Last season, the third-place Switchbacks (14-10-7, 49 points) did not come back to tie or win after falling behind. Colorado Springs blew some leads late as well. An uptick in offense could help.
"Some of the guys we brought in are attack-minded," Trittschuh said. "But they understand our team (defensive) approach. Right now, on paper, it looks pretty good."
For James, a New Zealand native, that means taking control of the middle.
"I have been an attacking midfielder my whole career and as I have gotten older I have begun to develop into more of a playmaker," he said. "I want to get on the ball, dictate the game and tempo. I feel football should be played a certain way and Steve and I are on the same wavelength."
Trittschuh hopes the team will be deeper and have more competition in practice.
"There were some guys who grew a little complacent last year knowing they were going to play regardless," he said.
James has plenty of experience to draw on as one of veterans on the Switchbacks, which will play college teams, including Air Force and Colorado-Colorado Springs, and semipro Harpo's of Boulder this preseason in preparation for the season opener March 25 at Western Conference foe Tulsa.
James, whose family is scattered around the globe, moved to Great Britain at age 13 and went through the Fulham youth system before turning pro. He has played in Australia, England, Finland and France before signing with Colorado Springs. He has played in 21 games (three goals) for the New Zealand men's national team including a score against Mexico in World Cup qualifying.
"I feel like I know what it takes to win and seen the do's and the don'ts on losing teams as well," James said. "I feel I am entering my prime and am looking forward to helping this team win a championship."
He came to the Switchbacks because of the reputation of the coaching staff and two winning seasons as the club enters its third season, he said.
"There is a solid group here with the right mentality already coming into the preseason," he said.
With James and others in the mix, returning veteran Luke Vercollone is pleased with the makeup of the roster. The challenge in the next six weeks is to gel as a team, he said.
"We have a lot of trust in coach Steve," he said. "It looks like he brought together a very diverse and unique group that should come together and mesh well."
The Switchbacks' home opener is April 1 versus Oklahoma City.