When Hadji Barry signed with the Switchbacks prior to the 2021 season, neither party was quite sure how it would go.
Barry was coming to a team, that hadn't had a winning season since 2016, with a new coach and a new Stadium.
As for the Switchbacks, they were signing a player who — despite several successful seasons — had spent the last seven years bouncing from team to team, never spending more than a year in one place. The shortened 2020 season was a low-point in his career, as Barry appeared in 15 games and scored just one goal for North Carolina FC.
"Signing Hadji had an element of risk in the beginning but not for me," coach Brendan Burke said in an email the Switchbacks shared with the Gazette. "After I spoke with him and realized how confident he was and how willing he was to bet on himself last year, I knew we would have a highly motivated player who had already had a couple big seasons in the league which we felt could be a very good match."
Good match might be an understatement. It turned out to be the perfect fit.
Barry has enjoyed two previous double-digit scoring campaigns, but nothing like the league-record tying 25 he recorded for the Switchbacks.
His historic offensive performance earned the 28-year-old forward the Golden Boot Award, and helped the Switchbacks advance to the postseason for the first time since 2016.
And on Wednesday, when Barry was back in Guinea, his home country, the USL announced another award would be added to his accolades: Most Valuable Player.
Barry beat out fellow finalists Santi Moar of Phoenix Rising FC and Sebastian Guenzatti of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The forward is the first Switchback to win the MVP award.
"It really has been a great year playing for the Switchbacks and going to work every day with my teammates and coaching staff," Barry said in the email. "I just want to thank Brendan Burke a lot because he really has put a lot of faith [in me] and he believed in me from the first day that I arrived here, and that really brought out a different level of confidence in me going into games and helping me perform at a high level."
Along with his record-tying goal total, this season also saw Barry reach 60 goals on his career, after averaging one every 114 minutes of play.
"I’m thankful for that," Barry said in the email. "But like I’ve always said, none of this would have been possible without the help of my current and previous teammates to achieve this milestone, so I’m already looking forward to (next) year and hopefully have an even better season that I did this year."
It didn't take long for the Switchbacks to realize that bringing Barry to Colorado Springs was the right call. Part way through the 2021 season, they signed Barry to a contract extension that runs through 2023.
Currently Barry has 63 total USL goals, sitting just outside the top five scorers in league history, but that could change in the coming years.
"I have no doubt that Hadji will enter the all time top five in scoring and hopefully the top three," Burke said in the email. "He has plenty of time to do it. He works with urgency every week, and we are significantly increasing the strength of the team around him and the staff that will work with him this offseason."