At 5-foot-6, 145 pounds, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC midfielder Zach Zandi is usually looking up to his teammates and opponents on the soccer field. But what he lacks in height and weight, Zandi more than makes up for with his skill, determination, grit and enthusiasm.
“It’s his work ethic,” Switchbacks forward Hadji Barry said of Zandi. “He comes here every day to work his (butt) off. We all love him. He wants to be successful. He wants the team to be successful. He’s a pivotal guy on this team.”
Zandi, 24, was one of the first players Switchbacks first-year coach Brendan Burke signed when he got the job last December. Zandi had played for Burke in Pennsylvania as a youth and early in his pro career.
“Zach is very intelligent and hard working,” Burke said. “He pops up in all the right spots. He’s a good decision maker. He’s got very good quickness and technical ability. He’s what you look for in a player.”
Following a successful collegiate career at Villanova in Philadelphia, Zandi signed with Reading United AC of the USL League Two in 2016. Three years later, Zandi signed with Philadelphia Union II and made his USL Championship debut with the then Bethlehem Steel for their 2019 season opener, scoring a goal and earning USL Championship Team of the Week honors for his performance.
Zandi was a steady contributor, making 34 appearances over two seasons before heading west.
“I’m much happier in this space than I was in the Philadelphia Union,” Zandi said. “They are doing what they want in developing young kids, which is great, but we’re I’m at in my career it’s definitely beneficial to play with older guys.
“To be with guys on this team that are seasoned pros has allowed me to learn a lot and grow as a lot as a player and person. I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
Jose Torres plays alongside Zandi in the midfield. At 33, Torres is the oldest and – by far – the most accomplished member of the team. Torres won four Liga MX titles – the top division in Mexico – over a long career south of the border, and has 26 caps for the United States Men’s National Team. Torres believes Zandi could become a world-class player.
“He’s a young kid that’s learning, and he brings a lot of energy to the group,” Torres said. “I always tell him he’s going to be the new Landon Donovan. He has a similar style. His turns. His mindset. The way he reads the game. The way he can play a through ball.
“He does everything well to make it to the next level. If he keeps working hard, a team in the MLS will be looking at him pretty soon.”
Donovan, by the way, is one of the most celebrated players in U.S. soccer history.
Zandi’s aggressive and intelligent style of play often has him in position to score. He nearly tallied his first Switchbacks goal last week during the team’s home opener against New Mexico United when he had a blast deflect off the right post.
“The big thing for me this year is to add to my goal tallies and assists, and helping the team win,” Zandi said. “I want to get those positions a lot more. I haven’t yet, but I think it’s coming. I have to be patient with it.”
Prior to this season, Zandi played his entire career in the east.
“I’m east coast through and through,” he said with a smile. “This is my first time on the west coast, actually. I’ve been out to California, but I’ve never stayed out there.
“The east coast is a lot different from here. The pace of everything is faster. I’m used to the city, so I’m not used to these beautiful mountains here. The scenery and everything is a lot different, but that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to come out here. I wanted to get a new experience, not only for my soccer career, but for me as a person.”
Zandi comes from a soccer family. His father and uncle played collegiately, and his mother played for the U.S. Women’s National Team before tearing both of her ACLs. His two sisters also played college soccer.