A fourth goal would have been real cause for celebration Saturday at Weidner Field, but three was more than enough for Colorado Springs Switchbacks to beat Austin Bold and boost their playoff position.
With the hosts up 3-1, the eventual final score, Switchbacks star Hadji Barry broke free and found himself one-on-one with Austin keeper Elliot Panicco. After scoring his 24th goal of the season in the first half, Barry was one man away from tying the United Soccer League Championship record for goals in a season.
“I said ‘he’s going to tie the record on that one,’” Switchbacks coach Brendan Burke said.
Panicco got his fingertips on the ball to deny Barry on one of his better chances all season.
“I give him that ball and I was like, ‘Yes, that’s 25,’” midfielder Andre Lewis said. “I was kind of happy I’m the one that played him the ball to make 25, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. It is what it is.”
Barry will have to settle for scoring the game-winner in the 41st minute when he settled a pass from Sebastian Anderson, took one touch past a defender and buried his attempt.
Anderson recorded the first of his two assists on the Switchbacks’ opening goal, a Deshane Beckford header in the eighth minute.
“It’s great to have guys like Beckie (Beckford), Hadji, (Thomas) Amang, all those guys running in behind, even Dre (Lewis) at times,” Anderson said. “It gives me a lot of options where, when I pick my head up and they know I can whip a ball in. They’re always on the end of it, so kudos to them.”
The sequence started when Barry nutmegged a defender on the left flank and passed ahead to Beckford, who flicked a pass back to Lewis. Lewis and Barry played a quick one-two before the ball swung out to Anderson. Anderson’s cross found Beckford for a free header.
“Beautiful,” Burke said of the buildup. “If you could draw it on the board, that’s how you would draw it on the board, and Seb’s delivery all year has been a weapon for us. He was good again tonight.”
Austin equalized less than 10 minutes after Colorado Springs scored the opener via Xavi Baez’s strike off a set piece. The Switchbacks back three of Jimmy Ockford, Matt Mahoney and Triston Hodge limited Austin’s chances for much of the evening.
“We took on a lot of pressure in the second half, but we’re starting to be able to absorb that and defend well as a group, which was not part of our DNA earlier in the year,” Burke said. “I’m happy. That was as complete of a performance as we’ve put on, but that’s starting to be a consistent thing for us. We all know we can score goals. We do it with the best of them.”
Lewis secured the win with a goal in the 83rd minute. Beverly Makangila won a header in midfield, and Lewis pressured an Austin defender into a bad touch, leaving the Switchbacks midfielder with a simple one-on-one finish. Lewis’s recent run of form have him solidly in Burke’s best 11.
“I just put my head down and work. I know at the beginning I have to fight my way in,” Lewis said. “Now (that) I’m in, I just keep my foot on the ground and work, listen to what the coaches want me to do and just try my best every game.”
The Switchbacks will return to action Saturday against Mountain Division leaders El Paso. The Locomotive are four points clear of the Switchbacks after Saturday’s win and have a midweek game before coming to Colorado Springs. The Switchbacks are nine points clear of fifth place with six games to play.
“It’s huge. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have half an eye on the top of the table. We still need to stay solid and make sure we get over the playoff line. There’s still a lot of teams in the mix,” Burke said, noting Rio Grande Valley and New Mexico’s wins Saturday.
“That’s not lost on us. That line is still too close for comfort, but we’re playing for a home playoff game.”