By J.J. Buck –
New Mexico United, 0-1-0 at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, 1-0-0. Kick-off 6 p.m. MT, ESPN+
Weidner Field will be the venue for New Mexico United’s first game action since March 7th. It will be the first of four games against the host Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, who are only team in Group C with a win. All four teams (NMU, COS, El Paso and Real Monarchs) played one game prior to the suspension of play.
Colorado Springs opened at Oklahoma City with a 2-1 win thanks to an OKC Energy own goal in the second half. Forward Christian Volesky scored in the 16′ for COS with OKC veteran defender, Atiba Harris, equalizing in the 58′. COS surged forward in the 78′ playing a ball into the box which was put into the wrong net by Energy fullback Tucker Stephenson.
Despite conceding the majority of possession to OKC (58%-to-41%), the Switchbacks were able to get shot attempts off (12 to OKC’s 14), but only two found the target. A positive sign for the Switchbacks defense was only one of the Energy’s 14 attempts was on target, but it went in.
United played COS three times last season, twice in the regular season and once in the U.S. Open Cup. United won both regular season games by the score of 3-1 and prevailed in extra time 2-1 in the Open Cup.
First year Switchbacks head coach Alan Koch brings a wealth of experience with him and United coach Troy Lesense knows they will present a tough test.
“Alan Koch has always set up his teams well whether it was FC Cincinnati or Vancouver. I think they are going to be well versed and hard to break down,” Lesense said in a phone interview this week.
Koch is being asked to breath new life into the Colorado Rapids USL affiliate after the team won just seven games last season finishing with a -34 goal differential. There are 17 new players on the Switchbacks roster this season.
Lesense pointed out a couple players who caught his eye in striker Christian Volesky (#9), midfielder Andre Lewis (#77) and winger George Lebese (#17). These are the players that Koch hopes eat into that goal deficit this season. It’s a whole new ball game with the top two teams from each group advancing to the playoffs.
COS lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation in their opener.
The teams leading goal scorer last season was center back Jordan Burt (seven goals). He’s adept at getting forward and can present challenges to opponents from set piece situations.
Seeing their new number nine, Volesky, score in the opener had to be a good feeling, but they will need more support in the attack. After spending his entire career in the ABSA Premiership, Lebese is making his USL Championship debut this season. He scored 24 goals in 157 appearances between the Kaizer Chiefs (2008-2017) and the Mamelodi Sundowns FC (2017-2019).
Andre Lewis is looking to rediscover the hype surrounding his introduction to professional soccer in the United States. The Jamaican international was the 7th overall pick in the 2014 MLS Super Draft by the Vancouver WhiteCaps. Lewis spent two seasons with Portland Timbers 2 before going back home to play with Portmore United last year.
Wearing the armband was Hiroki Kurimoto (#8). Kurimoto has an outstanding resume as a two time league MVP in Japan’s fourth division earning those honors in 2016 and 2017. He scored 34 goals with 45 assists in 172 appearances. He played in 29 games for Fresno FC last year.
Looking through the 17 roster additions for the Switchbacks the attack was a focal point along with adding veteran players to help stabilize the roster.
In comments posted on the teams website this week Koch touched on the group and the reputation of United, “New Mexico could be the best team in the league for all we know, so we’ll see a couple different traits and trends from that game, but I’ve also gone and watched their games from last year and let’s not kid ourselves; they’re one of the bigger teams in the league now with huge support and a huge fan-base. They made the playoffs in their first year and they’ve re-loaded and brought in some quality players so when people have called us the group of death they’re not kidding. Every team is going to be a challenge and New Mexico is a top team.”
One of the new rules at the coaches disposal in the return to play is five player substitutions. They still have to be used at just three stoppages of game play or halftime. Lesesne said that anytime a coach has more room to tinker it can go either way, good or bad. He feels it will benefit the players physically. It’s something we have seen introduced around the world of soccer to help with the return to play after a lengthy hideous.
United lined up in a 4-4-2 formation against Austin.
I would expect the same lineup with a healthy Josh Suggs retaking the left fullback spot from David Najem. You can read more about NMU’s roster in depth here. A stout defense will help set the tone as Lesesne believes that’s what teams will try and establish first. The second half in Austin provided better moments defensively for United as they were beat by a 52′ penalty kick.
You have to score goals to win. United attempted 10 shots against Austin with zero on target. All eyes will be on Devon Sandoval up top as Chris Wehan, Romeo Parks and Amando Moreno look to provide the spark needed to ignite United for their season opener part two.