After three progressively bigger baby steps, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC is working on walking out of a match with a win.
The club’s 1-1 draw against visiting New Mexico United on Saturday night at Weidner Field was the club’s best performance of the restart, according to coach Alan Koch. The tie marked the first time New Mexico failed to beat its neighbors to the north and was the Switchbacks’ third straight draw against a 2019 United Soccer League Championship playoff team.
“Our performances almost got better every game,” Koch said.
“We get probably our best performance so far this season tonight. We’re edging forward, We’re growing. We’re building, but there’s no rest for us yet.”
Now the focus is on getting the team’s first win since play resumed. The next chance comes Wednesday when El Paso, second to New Mexico United and a spot above the Switchbacks in the Group C table, visits Colorado. Koch said he’s not worried about the standings but expects his players are pushing for three points each time out.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Aidan Daniels, the Switchbacks' goal scorer Saturday, said. “We’re building something special here, and you can see in the last couple of games — minus the Austin first half, because, you know, that was embarrassing for us.”
Daniels’ goal, a curling, right-footed blast from outside the penalty area, looked a lot like his first goal of the season, which also came against New Mexico.
“It’s just a coincidence,” Daniels said. “The ball came through, and I just had some space so I just took it.”
A young player with obvious talent, Koch recently said Daniels needs to put in consistent performances to take the next step in his career. Wednesday’s equalizer was another positive.
“Aidan scored a fantastic goal. Part of that was because he put himself in a good position,” Koch said.
“He’s one of the babies that’s growing. You can see, he gets better and better all the time.”
Daniels' goal came roughly five minutes after Amando Moreno opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 54th minute. Koch said he wanted another look to see if it was indeed a penalty or if an offside decision in the buildup should’ve negated the chance, but it went down as the only blemish on Sean Melvin’s sheet after he rejoined the starting 11, replacing Abraham Rodriguez.
“I think I noticed a huge difference today, personally, because I had been out for a couple of games,” Melvin said. “I think there’s a different feeling. I felt totally confident with the back line and stuff. It felt strong and secure.”
Melvin was originally replaced after giving up four goals in El Paso and got his second chance after Austin Bold beat Rodriguez and the Switchbacks' defense four times in Wednesday’s first half.
“He managed the entire situation and helped his back four nullify a lot of their threats,” Koch said of Melvin.
“It was a very, very good performance for him.”
The Switchbacks’ best chance of the first half came when Daniels cut through the New Mexico defense and laid the ball off to Christian Volesky in the 13th minute. The only thing that prevented Volesky from bagging his third goal of the week was the crossbar standing above New Mexico keeper Cody Mizell. United would produce arguably the best chance of the first half four minutes later when Moreno drifted into some open space in the box for a free header that bounced wide of Melvin’s far post.
The Switchbacks played the final 15 minutes with a man advantage after Ryan Williams was booked a second time and earned a couple of corner kicks in that time but could not break through. Still it was good for another step forward.
“We were trying to push at the end to try and get the three points, but the performance tonight was really, really good,” Koch said. “We played against one of, if not, the top teams in the league, and we went toe-to-toe and probably, at times, looked better than them.”
Now, all they can do ahead of another short turnaround is, hopefully, sleep like a baby before returning to training Monday and looking for a win Wednesday.
“It will be nice to sleep a little bit and then come back Monday and get ready for Wednesday,” Koch said.
Play was stopped for 1:46 of the first half, starting in the seventh minute and lasting until 8:47, as the teams agreed to protest racial injustices during that span. Kenosha, Wis., police shot Jacob Blake seven times, while Minneapolis police kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 47 seconds before he died. Colorado Springs took the field in shirts that read “Switchbacks against racism,” before roughly half the home side kneeled during the national anthem.