My new Web site launched last night: http://currentofcolorado.com/#

Click here and bookmark the page, por favor. I touch on all aspects of soccer in Colorado, tidbits from all levels of the pyramid.

The top three teams I cover regularly all play 4-2-3-1. This includes the Colorado Rapids, Switchbacks FC, and the Charlotte Independence.

But I agree with Rapids midfielder Dillon Powers, particularly his philosophy about formations and positions. At the post-game press conference following the 0-0 home opener against NYCFC, Powers quoted Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller. He said he sees himself as “an interpreter of space.”

Regardless of the number scheme you apply in theory, a soccer player’s positioning comes down to responsibility, location, and the flow of the game itself. Centerbacks sometimes stand in the center circle and chuckle while watching their teammates victimize the opposition. In other games, the center backs drip sweat and blood on their own penalty spot. The formation on paper doesn’t matter so much at that point.

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Before March 25, 2015…

I caught the initial trickle in 1995 along with 180 other guys at a Major League Soccer talent search in Colorado. No one in the group advanced toward the payroll for that inaugural season. After I handed in my bib, I wrote a 1,000-word description of the weekend and have been writing about MLS and the Colorado Rapids ever since.

I migrated my coverage to my Web site: http://currentofcolorado.com/#

Click here and bookmark the page, por favor. I touch on all aspects of soccer in Colorado, tidbits from all levels of the pyramid.

Now I’m getting some help. At the close of the 2014 MLS season, Brian Jennings adds the perspective of an MLS veteran reporter. Jennings didn’t grow up as a soccer fan in the “American” football-rich midwest. But now he is solidly entrenched in the game as a fan, player, and media member in the Rocky Mountains. His involvement in MLS started in 1998 as a member of the Kansas City Wizards front office. After a brief stint there, he was hooked and has stayed involved in the league ever since, enjoying the Wizards 2000 MLS Cup year as a season-ticket holder before moving to Colorado. Jennings joins the Current of Colorado as an active member of the media covering MLS, USMNT, USWNT, and International Friendly matches the last 15 seasons for what has now become Soccer365.com, as well as contributing appearances with mls.comcoloradorapids.com, and news agencies from other MLS markets. Jennings will be a regular attendee at Rapids training sessions, home games, and the occasional road match with reactions of players and coaches from both locker rooms in their own words. You may follow Jennings on Twitter: @MLSfrom5280.

John Babiak and his son Marko capture photos at Rapids games and training sessions, and I’m grateful for the chance to use their images on this site as well.

My new Web site launched last night: http://currentofcolorado.com/#

Click here and bookmark the page, por favor. I touch on all aspects of soccer in Colorado, tidbits from all levels of the pyramid.

The top three teams I cover regularly all play 4-2-3-1. This includes the Colorado Rapids, Switchbacks FC, and the Charlotte Independence.

But I agree with Rapids midfielder Dillon Powers, particularly his philosophy about formations and positions. At the post-game press conference following the 0-0 home opener against NYCFC, Powers quoted Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller. He said he sees himself as “an interpreter of space.”

It comes down to responsibility, location, and the flow of the game itself. Centerbacks sometimes stand in the center circle and watch the opposition get worked. In other games, the center backs wear out the grass on their own penalty spots and get worked themselves. The formation on paper doesn’t matter so much at that point.

By Patrick Shea

Switchbacks FC traveled to Grand Junction this week for the team’s first game against another USL side on Wednesday, a 1-0 loss to Real Monarchs from Salt Lake City. Both teams are new to the league, but the Monarchs played like old friends.

“I think there are a lot of guys on the team who know each other,” said Switchbacks head coach Steve Trittschuh. In recent years, many of the Monarchs spent time at the Real Salt Lake academy facility in Casa Grande, Arizona, so they knew a common system as well as each other. The Monarchs held the ball for most of the first half, and Ricardo Velazco’s game-winner in the 61st minute concluded a 12-pass sequence.

“They’re a bit of a played-in team,” Trittschuh said, “but I thought we did well. We wanted to see what they could do. They had possession, but they didn’t do much with it. It gave us some confidence defending as a team. In the second half, we opened it up a bit.”

Trittschuh used 22 players to beat a gritty University of Colorado at Colorado Springs squad 2-1 last Saturday, and different faces played for him in the 1-0 victory over Colorado State University—Pueblo the week before.

“Up until now, we’ve only been playing college teams,” Trittschuh noted. “Playing against these guys showed us where we are. We’re less than two weeks before the first game, and we’re looking for our starting 11. We put five subs in, which is what we get for the season. So I tried to play this like a real game.”

Historically, USL teams would play back-to-back games on consecutive days to minimize travel costs. So the league allowed teams to use more players for each game.

“That will probably change next year. This season it’s still five,” Trittschuh said.

Including three goalkeepers, Trittschuh now has 23 players fighting for starting spots.

“You can have up to 30,” the head coach explained. “But as a first-year team with a first-year budget, we’re pretty much where we are. We’ll possibly get some loan players from some other MLS teams I’ve spoken with.”

The Switchbacks start their first season together next Saturday when they travel to Texas to face the Austin Aztex.

By Patrick Shea

Denver-born and Colorado-raised, Aaron King started his soccer career at South High School and Smoky Hill High School, and now he’s back home playing striker for Switchbacks FC in Colorado Springs.

In between, King played at every level from college to PDL, USL Second Division, USL Pro, USSF Division 2, NASL, MLS, and a stint in Finland. King scored 44 goals and registered 15 assists for North Carolina State University (2002-2005). He played with the Boulder Rapids Reserves during the summer of 2004 and Raleigh CASL Elite in 2005.

In 2006, King had two teams after him. The Virginia Beach Mariners drafted him during the USL First Division College draft, and the Los Angeles Galaxy drafted him in the MLS SuperDraft. King chose the Galaxy, but they traded him to the Colorado Rapids before the start of the season. He scored two goals in 10 Rapids reserve games, but he didn’t get any first-team minutes and was waived in November.

“I was with the Rapids in 2006,” King recalled. “Tritt [head coach Steve Trittschuh] was the assistant coach, and Wolde [Harris] was still playing. Trey [Harrington] had just finished a couple years before with the Foxes.”

Today, Trittschuh, Harris, and Harrington (and commentator and former USAFA head coach Lou Sagastume) make up the newly formed Switchbacks coaching staff. The club did a dry run of game-day operations on March 14 with a 2-1 victory over the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

When King came on the second half of the UCCS game, he sparked the offense immediately. Down 1-0 at halftime, Trittschuh replaced all 11 players. A long combination play right after the break concluded with King’s shot bouncing wide off the right post. Like the tide coming in, the Switchbacks attacks increased in frequency and intensity and Kevin Durr scored the equalizer in the 47th minute. King scored the game-winner by timing his run to the far post to redirect a low cross from Saeed Robinson into the net.

As the new team comes together, King joins a veteran crew with former teammates.

“I played with Luke [Vercollone] when I played with Charleston in 2008, 2009,” King recalled. “Jordan Burt. I played with him just last year with Carolina. We’ve got a handful of younger guys. We have two full teams battling for spots. We’re getting sharper each week and trying to find cohesion. It’s a matter of grinding it out until we gel and find our form.”

The Switchbacks start their season on the road against the Austin Aztex in Texas on March 28 (7:00 p.m. kickoff). OKC Energy FC will come to Sand Creek Stadium for the Switchbacks’ first home game at 1:00. 

By Brian Jennings

Rapids faithful will start their season on Saturday afternoon at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park when David Villa and NYCFC come to town (2:00 p.m. kickoff). Someone pulled a strange scheduling prank that forced fans and players to endure a week off after the first match on the road in Philadelphia on March 7. 

“Every team plays better when you’ve got a rhythm — game after game — you feel better physically. I think (the break) was too early. I don’t know why this happened, but it’s how it is,” Colorado midfielder Marcelo Sarvas said bluntly.

Marcelo Sarvas juggles during midweek training before NYCFC comes to town. Photo by John Babiak.

Marcelo Sarvas juggles during midweek training before NYCFC comes to town. Photo by John Babiak.

An extra week leading up to an important match isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and one school of thought is that the Rapids, with seven new faces in the starting lineup, got a chance to see how players gelled on the road. Coming home with plenty of play on film to break down, the coaches got a chance to fine-tune tactics, according to midfielder Dillon Powers. “Anytime you have a bye week it’s a good time to regroup, and this week has allowed us a chance to tweak some things.”

NYCFC had an impressive showing in their win over New England last weekend on the small field in Yankee Stadium.“(NYCFC is) a good team with a good coach. It’s a little bit hard to say because the field there looks very, very small. Everything was tight, a lot of players in the same place. I don’t know how big the field is,” Power said.

The Rapids will need to use the extra 10 yards in width and length at DSGP to make the visitors from New York chase the match.

“Every game poses a different challenge,” said head coach Pablo Mastroeni. “Teams come in here and they’re going to sit in, and we have to unlock them without exposing ourselves. I told the guys, ‘control what you can.’”

One thing under the control of the players is their physical effort to make opponents feel the thin air in Colorado. Sarvas was a frequent visitor to Colorado while a member of the Galaxy, and he agrees it’s an advantage for the Rapids, saying, “It’s always tough because the altitude counts a lot.”

Dillon Powers aims to fulfill the promise of asphyxiating opponents at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Photo by Marko Babiak.

Dillon Powers aims to fulfill the promise of asphyxiating opponents at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Photo by Marko Babiak.

“This year at home we want to take it to teams,” said Powers. “We’re not happy with a tie. We want to win. The biggest thing that we’ve done is bringing in an ego and working on our fitness. Collectively, we have raised our lactate thresholds so we can run and run and run. I think we can physically run teams into the ground here.”

For a team struggling to get into the win column dating back to last summer, coaches and players have said in the past they want to make DSGP a “fortress.” The Rapids need to take advantage of their home-field altitude and become virtually unbeatable at home as Real Salt Lake has done in recent years. “It’s been said for years that is what we want to do,” said Powers, “so it’s time to take some action and do it.”

By Patrick Shea

Born and raised in Colorado, Davy Armstrong is continuing his professional soccer path at home. The Aurora native was a three-time All-Colorado team selection out of Rangeview High School (2007-2009), and he won the Denver Post All-Colorado Player of the Year award in 2008.

Armstrong joined the Colorado Rapids youth program in 2007 and signed as the club’s first Homegrown Player in 2010. After four years, the Rapids released him in December. Not skipping a beat, the 23-year-old midfielder teamed up with his brother Ri to play for Real Colorado Edge in the Premier Arena Soccer League. In early February, he signed with Switchbacks FC in Colorado Springs for the club’s inaugural season in the United Soccer League.

Aurora native Davy Armstrong was the first Homegrown Player for the Colorado Rapids and now plays for Switchbacks FC. Photo by John Babiak.

Aurora native Davy Armstrong was the first Homegrown Player for the Colorado Rapids and now plays for Switchbacks FC. Photo by John Babiak.

“I think it’s a great thing that Davy had the opportunity to be a homegrown player from our academy and be part of the group for the past few years,” noted current Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni. “Although he didn’t get a lot of playing time, I think he grew tremendously as both a player and a person. What I explained to him last year is that he’s at the point in his career where he needs games week in and week out. That’s one thing you need as a player to get your confidence to the next level.”

Although the PASL is not the next level for an MLS player like Armstrong, his experience playing in arenas reinforced his passion for the sport.

“One of my good friends, Mike Lind, offered my brother and me a chance to play indoor,” Armstrong said. “At that point, I had to get touches. But I was playing with some of my best friends. There’s nothing better than playing the sport you love with the friends you love. That was a way of getting joy out of the game and building my confidence. It was more for fun than anything.”

Armstrong praised the Rapids organization, particularly for helping him rebuild after a long injury-recovery period. While on loan with Phoenix FC in the USL in 2013, Armstrong tore his right ACL and had surgery. It took him almost a  year to get back to the level he had achieved, physically and mentally. He performed well in the reserve game against Seattle, had a solid nine-minute stint against FC Dallas, and played in the final game of the season against the Vancouver Whitecaps after Marvell Wynne went down.

“I had a great year with them,” Armstrong recalled. “I loved the coaching staff. I was finally able to come back and build my confidence. Those coaches — Pablo, Steve Cooke, and even Brian Mullan at that time — they were great guys. It was sad to say goodbye to them. But I always look on the bright side. They recommended me to a couple different teams, and they gave Tritt [Steve Trittschuh, Switchbacks head coach] a call. I feel at peace with the decision.”

On March 18, Armstrong and the Switchbacks will travel to Walker Field on the Colorado Mesa University campus in Grand Junction to face the Real Monarchs in a preseason tune-up against another USL side. The Switchbacks start their USL season on the road against the Austin Aztex on March 28.

By Brian Jennings

The new MLS season is upon the Colorado Rapids, and with a serious overhaul in personnel, the team doesn’t expect a repeat of the 2014 season-ending swoon. The expectation is plain and simple: be competitive and win. 

“It’s not only the players, it’s the organization,” explained midfielder Marcelo Sarvas before the season opener in Philadelphia this Saturday. “Everyone has to have that mentality.”

Marcelo Sarvas brings a champion’s mentality to Colorado. Photo by John Babiak.

Marcelo Sarvas brings a champion’s mentality to Colorado. Photo by John Babiak.

“I see people here with a lot of energy. Every training is 100 percent,” Sarvas told the Current of Colorado. “When you play in clubs with success, their minds are a winning mind. You go to the field and your mindset is to win games whether it’s away or at home. The most important thing here is to put this mentality and make everyone believe that you can win and be champions.” 

Sarvas knows a bit about success in MLS, coming off a championship year with the Los Angeles Galaxy before moving to Colorado. 

It isn’t expected to be easy, especially with so many new faces and backgrounds. But head coach Pablo Mastroeni is pleasantly surprised with how this year’s squad has come together. “Bringing in nine new players adds a component,” Mastroeni said, “and the majority of these players are experienced, so their ability to adapt is much quicker. What I’ve seen is the cohesion of the group in six weeks… understanding roles, understanding abilities, and the dynamic play on both sides of the ball has been really transparent in preseason.”

Colorado travels to Philadelphia to start the season with many of those new players in prominent roles from the outset. With Captain Drew Moor out of the back line until he fully heals, don’t be surprised to see guys like Michael Harrington, Bobby Burling, and even rookie Axel Sjöberg take leadership roles in defense.

“Obviously we need talent, which we have, but also need leaders,” explained Harrington. 

Harrington brings experience to Colorado. Photo by John Babiak.

 

“We have a group of players that want to take ownership of the team. It can’t always be the coaches. It has to be the guys on the field that are making plays and leading by example. I think we have that.” 

“We brought players here that just raised the level of the team. This happens all the time,” noted Sarvas. “In other leagues, you get used to playing at the level you are in. When you bring players with good quality, the other players are going to follow this. Everyone that came here kept the same level they played with at other clubs and showed the guys here that we can do better than last year.”

Dynamic midfielders such as Sarvas, Lucas Pittinari, and Juan Ramirez will be counted on to raise the quality and provide an attacking element out of midfield to link up with holdovers Dillon Powers, Dillon Serna, and Nick LaBrocca. With depth in critical positions on the field, Rapids coaches can confidently move pieces around without worrying about a drop in play. 

“With the group we have, you can’t get complacent because then your spot is gone. It forces guys to come out and perform every day and brings that extra bit of focus,” said Harrington. “We’re competitive, and we’re still getting used to each other, our identity, and our style of play. The way we’ve competed against some of the better teams in the leagues [in preseason], we’re right there.” 

By Patrick Shea

When the players lined up for the anthem before the Desert Diamond Cup championship between the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake in Tucson last week, they mixed together like shuffled cards instead of two groups split by the officials.

“During warmups, they said that we would go every other player,” explained Rapids rookie center back Axel Sjöberg. “It wasn’t super organized, just enough to make it look good.”

Rapids rookie Axel Sjöberg is discovering the camaraderie among MLS players. Photo by John Babiak.

Rapids rookie Axel Sjöberg is discovering the camaraderie among MLS players. Photo by John Babiak.

For partisan fans of the Rapids/RSL rivalry, such fraternizing raised eyebrows, particularly considering the championship on the line and the seriousness of trailists with a final chance to show their worth and maybe land a job. At the time, less than a week remained before the first game of the MLS season, and the owners and players had not reached an agreement yet.

The deal signed through 2019 this week relieved tension, but this past week showed solidarity among MLS players.

“That was something the players decided beforehand,” Sjöberg said. “To show that we were united.”

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