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David Ramsey: Playoff-bound Switchbacks should join soccer forces with Rapids

September 29, 2016 Updated: September 30, 2016 at 2:14 pm
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Switchbacks Conor Doyle and OKC Energy Timo Pitter (left to right) fight for the ball during a game at Switchbacks Stadium on Wednesday, August 24, 2016. The Switchbacks won the game 2-0. photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette

The Colorado Rapids should sign an affiliation agreement with the Colorado Springs Switchbacks and create a Front Range alliance. It's an ideal soccer marriage.

And this is not a far-fetched dream. The Rapids compete in the MLS. The franchise is in the final weeks of commitment to the Charlotte Independence of the United Soccer League.

Charlotte is 1,563 miles from the Rapids' home field. Switchbacks Stadium is 78 miles from the Rapids home.

Steve Trittschuh, coach of the Switchbacks, sees positives in the possible soccer union. The altitude in the Springs is close to the same as the altitude in Commerce City, where the Rapids play.

"It would suit both of us," he said. "There would be a lot of advantages for both of us."

Under Trittschuh's direction, the team immediately grew into winners, earning consecutive playoff berths. The Switchbacks, the USL West's No. 3 seed, host the No. 6 Vancouver Whitecaps at 7 p.m. Friday.

Players frequently move up from USL teams to their MLS affiliates, Trittschuh explained. Those moves could take place in a single morning in a Switchbacks and Rapids joint venture.

"Players could be down here in an hour, and we could send them back in an hour," Trittschuh said.

Through a spokesman, the Rapids declined to comment on their future affiliation with the Independence or the Switchbacks.

From 1993-2014, the Colorado Rockies and Colorado Springs Sky Sox enjoyed and later endured a baseball marriage. Todd Helton and Carlos Gonzalez, and dozens of others, first hit home runs on the eastern plains of Colorado Springs before moving to downtown Denver.

The union ended when the Rockies moved their Triple-A affiliation to Albuquerque. The Sky Sox quickly joined forces with the Milwaukee Brewers. On Thursday, the Sky Sox and Brewers renewed their affiliation through 2018.

For decades, professional soccer struggled to gain a place in the heart of American sports fans. The struggle is ending. The Rapids have averaged 16,229 fans this season, better than the Denver Nuggets 14,095 average in 2015-2016. The MLS and the USL feature homegrown Americans playing alongside players from across the world, and U.S. sports consumers are buying the formula.

The soccer marriage with the Rapids would boost the Switchbacks, but the franchise is thriving without an affiliation with the USL. The Switchbacks are an infant franchise, born in 2015.

"The hope always is there," Trittschuh said of a possible union with the Rapids. "But we're doing our own thing, and we've had success doing it. The kids stick together, and it's worked."

Yes, it has. The Switchbacks were seldom dominant this season, outscoring opponents by only 10 goals (37-27), but the team played a physical brand of defense that sometimes verged on stalking and seldom surrendered leads.

The Switchbacks, without an MLS affiliation, have flourished on their own. The franchise can soar higher by joining forces with the Rapids.

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