Air Force Academy senior Tucker Bone and Switchbacks FC coach Steve Trittschuh hope for the same thing: a local post-graduation assignment that could provide the standout Falcon attacking midfielder a chance to play professionally.
Bone, who played on the first Colorado Pride Switchbacks U23 Premier Development League squad over the summer, said his first career choice after graduating is pilot training.
“You kinda wait for a pilot training slot after graduation and so in that time, if I’m here on a casual job is what they call it, yeah, that would be awesome to get that experience,” said Bone on Tuesday. He was sitting in Air Force coach Doug Hill’s office, wearing blue high-top Chuck Taylor All-Stars and letting some of his California dialect sneak through the academy polish.
Hill also has some sway, as he could request the two-time Western Athletic Conference first-team selection’s casual job be as an assistant coach at the prep school, where Bone spent a year.
“The first thing is getting a late pilot training date, which the system can help,” Hill said. “And we can say ‘This is our No. 1 guy we want around our new recruits.’”
And while that’s good news for Trittschuh, who knows how the system can work. A year ago, the Switchbacks had, according to the coach, an informal agreement with former Falcon Trey Pujats, only to see the midfielder sent to Dayton, Ohio, after graduation.
“It all depends on if they stay here,” Trittschuh said. “But he’s an impact player. He can do well, I think, in this league.”
Bone, as did some of the other PDL players, trained with the professional club at times this season and proved to be the type of player the Switchbacks coach likes.
“He causes problems,” Trittschuh said. “He’s always active. He likes to take guys 1-on-1. I think he could help us out.”
Those traits also makes Bone a good fit for his current situation where his three goals and equal number of assists give him a team-high nine points for the 5-1 Falcons entering Friday.
“We have a very high-paced, attractive, attacking soccer in the forward line,” Hill said.
With certain soccer disadvantages, like not being able to recruit foreign talent, Hill likes his teams to be on the older, more physically developed side, but Bone quickly carved out a spot, playing in all 17 games as a freshman and finishing second in points.
He’s only gotten better, strengthening his weaker left foot, increasing his technical ability and learning through watching the Messis and Ronaldos of the world, according to his coach.
“He’s developed very well, and he’s matured, too, as a person,” Hill said. “He’s one of our captains. He wasn’t always the most organized kid. He’s the kid who forgets his shorts and sometimes can’t find something, but now, he’s making sure other guys do it, which is a true leadership role.”
That’s led to All-American honors and inclusion as a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s equivalent to the Heisman, as a junior. He’s on the Hermann watch list as a senior, but his final season of collegiate soccer is more about getting the Falcons a WAC championship and a return to the NCAA Tournament after last year’s first-round exit.
“This season, for me, is all about the team,” Bone said. “Being here with these guys for so long, like coach was saying since the prep school, it means everything to us to succeed as a team, for sure.”
The Falcons are ranked No. 23 heading into the final weekend of the nonconference slate, starting with Friday night’s matchup with No. 22 San Francisco.
Trittschuh planned to attend, as he did Sunday’s 3-0 win over then-No. 13 Colgate when Bone set up a first-minute goal and scored later in the first half, a performance befitting a future pro.
“If that opportunity presents itself, I’m going to take it full on and do my best,” Bone said.
"I’m going to keep pushing, like coach was saying, to hopefully get a casual job here, get my pilot training date pushed back so I can at least play for the Switchbacks or maybe get some training time in with the Rapids. I think that would be awesome.”
Switchbacks still have a sliver of a playoff shot
If the United Soccer League’s projections are accurate, the Switchbacks’ hopes of a playoff spot rely heavily on help from others.
The Switchbacks are four spots and seven points back of eighth-place St. Louis for the final spot, and ninth-place Reno has two games in hand.
The opponent for Saturday’s 7 p.m. match at Weidner Field, 15th-place Rio Grande Valley, could be the third Western Conference team eliminated from playoff contention, joining Seattle and Tulsa.
“It’s going to be interesting tomorrow, because both teams have to win,” Trittschuh said. “A tie is not going to do either of us good.”
While a week off allowed some to get healthy, forwards Toby Uzo and AJ Ajeakwa are not expected to be available Saturday.
Mason Toye, a Minnesota United loanee, trained with the club Friday and is available Saturday.