FC Tucson coach Jon Pearlman will see a much-improved soccer player when he coaches against the Switchbacks and defender Josh Phillips on Wednesday.
Colorado Springs hosts FC Tucson in the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament at 7 p.m. at Weidner Field.
A stint in the Premier Development League, which is one step below the United Soccer League, is a big reason why Phillips is in his third season with the Tier II Switchbacks.
"Jon Pearlman helped me get my first contract here with the Switchbacks so I am kind of indebted to them," the former Gonzaga standout said. "It will be an honor to play on the other side against them."
Phillips remains a work in progress. He has almost two full USL seasons under his belt, but he played only 20 games last season due to injury.
"He's been pretty solid," coach Steve Trittschuh said. "He's come in playing with confidence. He knows the league and knows the players. He still has to learn a few nuances. He's been one of the most solid defenders -- he and Jordan (Burt) -- on the back four for us."
Moving up to Major League Soccer is very much on the mind of Phillips, who knows his window is shrinking.
"I feel stronger and more composed with every game I am out there," Phillips said. "Everyone's goal is to take that step up to the MLS. I am 25 years old now so it's make or break. It's a big year."
In the midst of a three-game road trip over two weeks, the Switchbacks will play a number of reserves so regular starters and those with minor injuries can rest ahead of Saturday's road game against the Real Monarchs SLC.
While a win would be a good morale boost for a team that is 0-1-1 in its past two outings, Trittschuh must think long term for the fourth-place Switchbacks (3-3-4).
"I have to be realistic about it," Trittschuh said following Tuesday's practice. "There will be a lot of (lineup) changes tomorrow. I have to do it. We are still in a good position in the league and I cannot jeopardize that by getting someone injured because they are fatigued -- which we all are. We have to get off to a good start and make sure we don't give (FC Tucson) much confidence."
FC Tucson's roster is made up of mostly post-collegiate players looking to impress MLS and USL coaches and move up the food chain, as did former Switchbacks' Saeed Robinson and Billy Thompson and current forward Conner Bevans.
"Tucson loves the underdog role," said Bevans, who played there in 2013. "They're coming in very motivated because these are all younger players who want to get noticed."
There may be plenty of noise even if the weeknight crowd is small. The FC Tucson supporters group, The Cactus Pricks, is making the drive to Colorado Springs from Arizona.