EDITORIAL – Colorado Rapids of MLS and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC of the USL Championship are entering the second year of their MLS-USL affiliation. Last year was poor for both teams, who missed the playoffs and changed coaches mid-season. With new leadership, upgraded talent on the field, and a mutually beneficial relationship, both teams are ready to challenge for the playoffs in 2020. Rapids academy director and Switchbacks general manager Brian Crookham spoke with me on January 23 about this.
Brian Crookham: Switchbacks aim to Compete in 2020, are not Rapids II
This interview was featured on Holding The High Line, starting at time stamp 28:43.
For starters, the Switchbacks have been busy with signings as Alan Koch overhauls the roster. They’ve brought in players from a variety of places including MLS and abroad. Every player coming from another USL side has a pedigree in the second division.
Koch is Here to Build a Winner:
“Alan’s a winner. He had a rough three weeks at [FC] Cincinnati and that’s pretty much the only three weeks in his career that he’s experienced losing. He’s a guy who’s going to come in and expect to win from moment one,” Crookham told Last Word. “His approach has helped the entire club move forward and he’s been involved in every aspect.”
Both clubs are hoping that the roster build is reflective of the culture Koch wants to establish. Combined with some improved talent, this team should expect to be much better on paper in 2020.
Four Types of Players to Make up the Roster:
I thought it was fair to bring up that many Switchbacks supporters felt like their club was treated like a reserve side last season. Crookham stated that is not how either side is expecting this year to go.
“Let’s be really clear: The Switchbacks are not Rapids II. I think that it will become more clear with a better core in the Switchbacks themselves. If you look at the way the roster is constructed, there’s going to be four types of players” Crookham elaborated.
He went on to explain the roster build as follows:
1) The Switchbacks will have about 16 players signed to USL contracts. That’s an increase from certain times in the Steve Trittschuh era, where the Black and Blue sometimes played games without a full 18 players on the team sheet.
2) Expect there to be about four or five Rapids players who are on long term loans (most likely season loans) from the Rapids. Niki Jackson and Abdul Rwatubyaye have already joined the Switchbacks preseason and were both productive in USL last year. These players will effectively become Switchbacks players. They will have to earn their minutes and Rapids brass will not be instructing Koch to start them no matter what. On talent/experience, these players should be serviceable to Koch.
3) There will still be occasional short term loans from the Rapids first team. These will mostly be for players needing playing time for fitness, recovering from injury, etc. Think the baseball term designated for assignment.
4) Rapids Development Academy players. In terms of number of players made available, this group made up the majority last season. The club made it clear that this group will provide depth, especially during fixture congestion.
“Our goal is to make sure that the Rapids relationship is enhancing what’s happening in Colorado Springs, not turning it into an [MLS II team] situation.”
If we just take the firs two groups, that’s 20+ players minimum. That’s more than the club had last year. A source within the Switchbacks informed LWOS that the club wasn’t spending the bare minimum on player salaries for the most part last year. Based on who they’ve brought in this year, that’s likely changed as well.
“Everybody was able to talk about that planning and we’re continually scheduling regular meetings for that group to talk about player development.”
The Switchbacks have a coach who’s won this division. They have more players and better players. They’ll be getting proper reinforcements from their MLS affiliate who will benefit from the opportunity themselves. Sprinkle in the odd first-team starting player who will be expected to play and some academy teenagers to provide emergency depth and what do you have?
A team that’s expected to challenge for the playoffs and not finish last in the USL Championship Western Conference.