Phoenix Rising FC's Juan Guerra, FC Tulsa's Blair Gavin and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC's Stephen Hogan could potentially bring new-look lineups to the USL Championship this season.
Earlier this month, we looked at three teams in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference who’ve undergone major reconstruction ahead of the new season.
The Charleston Battery, Hartford Athletic and Indy Eleven aren’t the only teams undergoing an overhaul, though.
Today, we’re going to look at three more teams that look set to have substantial changes to their starting lineups for the new season. Two of them dropped from postseason contention last year and have new leaders looking to put their imprint on the squad.
The other, and our starting point, might have had the most tumultuous offseason of any of last year’s playoff clubs.
Here’s where things stand as preseason approaches.
Head Coach – Stephen Hogan (1st Year)
Prospective New Starters – 7
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC posted club records in wins and points in a regular season, and advanced to the Western Conference Final of the USL Championship Playoffs for the first time in 2022. And then, almost everything changed.
After the late-season transfer of Hadji Barry, for a USL Championship-record fee, , this offseason saw more massive changes in Colorado Springs. More transfers – Cam Lindley to Indy Eleven, Isaiah Foster to FC Cincinnati, and Elvis Amoh to Hartford Athletic – and the departure of 2022 Championship Young Player of the Year Michee Ngalina to Turkish club Göztepe S.K. ensured the 2023 squad was going to look very different, but then came what might have been the biggest move of all. Head Coach Brendan Burke’s departure – for another transfer fee – to Houston Dynamo FC meant Switchbacks fans, understandably, hovered their hands over the panic button.
Here's the thing, though. While all those departures sound bad, the Switchbacks had already been securing their future. The club was busy early in the offseason, adding former All-League selections James Musa and Speedy Williams, and picked up D.C. United midfielder Drew Skundrich. They also signed Patrick Seagrist to likely take the left wingback spot after a strong season for Memphis 901 FC, and the attack brought in two more Jamaican internationals in Maalique Foster and Romario Williams.
There are likely to be questions for Colorado Springs and new Head Coach Stephen Hogan early this season. With this initial core lineup, and the continuity Hogan offers as a former assistant, there should be optimism the Switchbacks are still going to be a solid contender.
Head Coach – Juan Guerra (2nd Year)
Prospective New Starters – 7
Phoenix Rising FC made one of the boldest coaching moves in USL Championship history last season when it appointed Juan Guerra – never before in the league’s history had a coach moved from one club to another midseason – but despite some flashes Rising FC couldn’t find a path back to the postseason, ending its run of five consecutive playoff berths.
With Guerra and his team now fully at the helm, however, Phoenix has looked to put together a squad that is going to align with the possession-oriented style of play the former Venezuelan international aimed to implement at Oakland Roots SC. That’s meant a lot of new faces, and some major departures, this offseason as the club looks to regain its place at the top of the Western Conference. Among those going out are midfielder stalwart Aodhan Quinn – transferred last week to Indy Eleven – and the duo of Santi Moar and Greg Hurst, both transferred to New Mexico United.
For replacements, Guerra has looked to his home country. A quartet of Venezuelan players has joined the club, with center back Alejandro Fuenmayor – a former charge at Oakland – midfielder Renzo Zambrano, winger Erickson Gallardo and forward Manuel Arteaga all looking like starters. There’s also a potential battle for the starting goalkeeper position with young Argentine prospect Rocco Rios Novo and former Championship title winner Patrick Rakovsky both coming on board.
The most intriguing new arrival, however, might be 26-year-old Argentine playmaker Federico Varela, who looks on paper likely to be the creative hub for his new club. We’re looking at a very different – and potentially very interesting – Rising FC squad this season.
Head Coach – Blair Gavin (1st Year)
Prospective New Starters – 6
After two seasons of upward progression under Head Coach Michael Nsien, FC Tulsa stalled in 2022, resulting in the Tulsa native’s departure and the appointment of Blair Gavin as the club’s new Head Coach. Gavin arrives to his first head coaching role after stints as an assistant at Phoenix Rising FC and Columbus Crew SC, and he and club President Sam Doerr have gone about retooling the club with some familiar names, some newcomers to the league, and standout mainstays.
Two of the most interesting arrivals come from the same club, with left back Brett Levis and forward Moses Dyer both having been key players for the Canadian Premier League’s Valour FC. Dyer has notched 18 goals across the past two CPL seasons, and should be complemented by right winger Siad Haji, a former No. 2 MLS SuperDraft pick who joined Tulsa this offseason from the San Jose Earthquakes.
Levis, meanwhile, brings prior USL Championship experience from his time at Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, where he was a consistently solid performer. Central midfielder Collin Fernandez has also delivered previously in the league, including helping Phoenix Rising FC reach the 2018 USL Championship Final when Gavin was an assistant coach at the club.
Another player with a Gavin connection is Justin Malou, who joins from the Columbus Crew and looks set to slot in at right back, while 22-year-old Blaine Ferri – a former U.S. youth international – can try to jumpstart his career in a midfield trio that also includes veteran Rodrigo da Costa.