The renewal of the rivalry between El Paso Locomotive FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC delivered another excellent contest on Wednesday night at Southwest University Park. Here are three things we took away from Colorado Springs’ dramatic late victory.
1. DUKE AT THE DEATH
It was known before Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC took the field for its 2023 season opener it would be a new-look squad. It might have only been fitting, then, that two of the new arrivals combined to deliver a late winner that didn’t appear to be coming for the visitors in a game that felt ready to end all square.
What was key was the willingness from both sides to try and find a winner. El Paso had arguably the better of the second half, but as it went on the game went up and down the field as transition moments became all-important. When Colorado Springs broke out of defense in stoppage time after Aaron Wheeler – the Switchbacks’ 6-foot-4 center forward – won possession 25 yards from his own goal, the visitors moved quickly as Deshane Beckford threaded a beautiful pass for the speedy Duke Lacroix to chase. The veteran – most recently of Sacramento Republic FC – held off his defender and produced a perfect finish into the right corner to grab a second consecutive opening game victory for the Switchbacks.
2. SWITCHBACKS OFF TO THE RIGHT START
Given the offseason changes around the Switchbacks – newly promoted Head Coach Stephen Hogan started five new arrivals after a tumultuous offseason in Colorado Springs – it was almost essential for the visitors to get out to a strong start. A goal after just 109 seconds by Jairo Henriquez off a brilliant assist by new arrival Maalique Foster provided just that, putting Colorado Springs into an early lead.
There was plenty of work to do from there, and if not for Lacroix’s late finish it might not have been the celebratory night Hogan and the club might have envisioned. At the same time, this will be a major confidence boost for a side that while having reached the Western Conference Final in last year’s USL Championship Playoffs had been pushed down the pecking order in preseason predictions because of departures this offseason. Saturday’s home opener against Hartford Athletic is now a chance to affirm the Switchbacks are going to maintain the standards they’ve achieved the past two seasons and be a strong postseason contender.
3. LOCOMOTIVE FC GOES UNREWARDED
El Paso Locomotive FC has lost its opening two games of the season, but you can make a good argument that the side might have drawn the short straw when it comes to its fortunes so far. You need only look at Luis Solignac’s effort in the 89th minute, which saw Colorado Springs goalkeeper Christian Herrera make a brilliant save to keep the game level, as a chance that could have sent El Paso to victory.
Locomotive FC produced a second consecutive solid display, outshooting its visitors in both total shots (14-12) and shots on target (6-4). But when results aren’t going your way to start the season – or in the case of Head Coach Brian Clarhaut, the start of your tenure – the pressure to find something to hang your hat on starts to build. That makes Saturday’s game against Detroit City FC a very important one for El Paso.