Colorado Rapids, Colorado Springs Switchbacks announce affiliation

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Photo provided by Mark Turner of Last Word on Soccer.

Editorial (November 11, 2018) – After weeks of rumor and speculation, in a joint press conference on Tuesday, the Colorado Rapids and the Colorado Springs Switchbacks finally announced their affiliation agreement. With the Rapids recently severing their 4-year partnership with Charlotte Independence, it was only a matter of time before the cat was officially released from the bag.

Colorado Rapids, Colorado Springs Switchbacks announce affiliation

If you’re reading this article in hopes that it’ll answer all your questions regarding this new partnership, stop reading. No article you’re going to read during the off-season is going to be able to give the full low-down of exactly what this union means to all concerned. No article can. What this new relationship looks like, how it operates, and most importantly how it tangibly benefits the two clubs involved is something that can only truly be assessed once the 2019 season is underway.

So, what do we know? This appears to be a traditional affiliation model, not an absorption. The Rapids do not own the Switchbacks. The Switchbacks are not going to be rebranded as an MLS 2, reserve, or youth team. Both clubs maintain their distinct, independent identities.

The affiliation provides all of the standard benefits that you would expect, which my fellow Last Word colleague Matt Pollard and I outlined in our earlier article. For the Rapids, having a formal relationship with a tier 2 team just an hour or so drive away is far preferable to the 3,000-mile round-trip involved in shuttling players back and forth to Charlotte, NC, the home of their former affiliate.

Whether providing minutes to fringe first-teamers, players keen to prove their fitness after injury, or promising youngsters eager for some competitive experience, both the Rapids and the Switchbacks can benefit from their geographic proximity. As the Rapids look for the most, well, rapid way to develop potential starters, what better environment than the USL, and what place than their nearest neighbors?

The Switchbacks, in turn, have made no secret of the financial benefit to their club. Having great talent bolster the roster is undoubtedly a good thing. Better yet, when that talent is on someone else’s payroll, it allows the club to invest more aggressively in its own smaller pool of contracted players. Arguably (is it really an argument?), what the Switchbacks lacked more than anything this past season was a 15-goal a season striker. Now they have two potential avenues to secure one – from the Rapids directly, or via the increase in funds they can now channel to this cause.

The one surprise during the announcement this week was the introduction of the Switchbacks new General Manager, the Rapids Senior Director of Player Development Brian Crookham. Some Switchbacks fans were understandably concerned by this development, seeing it as a possible early example of the Rapids imposing their will over their USL counterpart. Let’s be clear; having a GM as part of the affiliation structure was always going to happen. In fact, it’s a vital step towards ensuring the success of this new partnership. The concern comes from not knowing what this GM’s role will be, exactly?

All indications I’ve received from representatives at both clubs suggest Mr Crookham will primarily be assisting with youth recruitment and development. That is to say, he will work with the Switchbacks to leverage the Rapids existing network and scouting practices to help bring exciting young players to Colorado Springs. He’ll then work alongside the Switchbacks coaching team, still headed up by Steve Trittschuh, to help develop that talent. However, when it comes to match-day decisions, that responsibility will continue to rest largely with Coach Trittschuh.

To what degree the footballing philosophies of the two teams will merge, their soccer DNA splicing into a single strand is yet to be revealed. Consistency could be helpful on some level, but it could also be a hindrance to the Switchbacks coaching team. Much will hinge on the relationship between the two clubs, and in particular between Trittschuh and Crookham.

Early indications are at least positive. Indeed, were it not for the relationship that already exists between many of the pertinent parties at the two organizations, this affiliation may never have happened at all.

The Switchbacks have always been about community and have done a magnificent job of weaving themselves into the very fabric of Colorado Springs, a skill that appears valued by the Rapids. No wonder. The ability to build a legitimate ‘pathway to pro’ in Colorado is ultimately going to hang on the two clubs ability to foster a statewide soccer community.

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