With six goals and three assists in six games this season, Hadji Barry is leading the attacking resurgance for Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC as it looks to return to the USL Championship Playoffs this season. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorad
Three years ago, Hadji Barry was among the USL Championship’s most lethal finishers.
Competing for Sporting Kansas City II, the Guinean forward recorded 17 regular-season goals – including a streak of a goal in eight consecutive games that still stands as the league record despite recent challenges – and earned Championship All-League Second Team honors while leading his side to the USL Championship Playoffs.
The past two years didn’t go as smoothly for the 28-year-old, with a 2018 that saw him split time between Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the Israeli Premier League and with Ottawa Fury FC before last year competing for North Carolina FC, but at his new home with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, Barry is back hitting the heights he did in Kansas City.
With six goals and three assists in six games after last Wednesday night’s 4-2 victory against Tacoma Defiance – in which he became only the fifth recorded player in Championship history to record one goal and three assists in the same contest – Barry is tied for the league lead in goals and tied for second in assists, producing a goal or assist every 59.9 minutes while also sitting with the highest Expected Goals + Expected Assists mark in the league (6.49xG+xA) according to American Soccer Analysis.
So, what’s made the difference this season?
Well, you can look at the situation that Barry finds himself in. Playing for a Head Coach in Brendan Burke that has fostered attacking talents in the past – including current U.S. Men’s National Team winger Brenden Aaronson and Philadelphia Union and Jamaica forward Cory Burke – you have a philosophy that wants to be aggressively on the front foot, moving quickly up the field to create chances.
While that helps, what’s maybe as important is the players around Barry that are helping him carry the attack. In right winger Michee Ngalina and midfielder Zach Zandi – both Burke protégés from Philadelphia – and attacking midfielder Deshane Beckford alongside him, it has produced a situation where Barry can not only be the focal point in chance creation but have players that provide service that he can thrive on.
With Michee Ngalina (11) and Deshane Beckford (right) alongside him, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC's Hadji Barry has gotten out to a flying start in 2021. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Look closely, and you can see the similarities to his time with SKC II. Instead of Ngalina and Beckford, Barry had alongside him Kharlton Belmar and Tyler Blackwood, both of whom had their own stellar seasons working alongside him. Belmar – now with Sacramento Republic FC and a Grenada international – had 10 goals and six assists for Sporting that season across the regular season and playoffs, while Blackwood – now at Oakland Roots SC – chipped in eight goals and three assists.
That trio finished 1-2-3 in Expected Goals + Expected Assists for Sporting that season according to American Soccer Analysis, the same way that Barry, Ngalina and Beckford now do for Colorado Springs.
There’s no question it’s going to be a challenge for the Switchbacks to immediately return to the playoffs this season, even with all the positives currently occurring at the club. For one thing, the Mountain Division looks stacked with Rio Grande Valley FC having joined the contenders with the return of Wilmer Cabrera and his new-look squad alongside the likes of 2020 postseason sides El Paso Locomotive FC, New Mexico United and San Antonio FC. There’s also another serious challenger in Austin Bold FC – which the Switchbacks visit on Tuesday night (9 p.m. ET | ESPN+) – as it looks to rebound after making the playoffs in its inaugural season in 2019.
But the presence of Badji and his new wingmen should be serious reason for Switchbacks fans to hope that contention – and high-level on-field entertainment – has arrived at Weidner Field.