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Game On!

Colorado Springs adds pro soccer team for 2015

Colorado Springs sports fans hungry for something new in 2015 are in luck. The city will be home to the Colorado Springs Switchbacks Football Club, one of 10 new expansion teams in the USL Pro soccer league, with games beginning in late March or early April. Owned by Ragain Sports, LLC, the Switchbacks will bring professional soccer to the Pikes Peak region as the sport continues to explode in popularity throughout the United States.

Fans will be able to file into Sand Creek Stadium adjacent to Security Service Field east of Powers Boulevard and watch high-level soccer for six months a year as the Switchbacks take on other USL Pro teams with a bevy of talented up-and-coming pro stars. The franchise’s ownership is enthusiastic about the upcoming season.

“As it becomes more real, as we sign players and take each new step, it’s incredible how it’s developed since last year,” Team President Nick Ragain says. “The value of that franchise has grown since last year, so we certainly like the projection. It’s been a lot of work, but things are falling into place.”

The Ragain family’s interest in having a USL Pro franchise came on the heels of the league announcing in January 2013 a partnership with Major League Soccer that will make the USL a minor leagues of sorts for MLS. Switchbacks players can compete at a high level in hopes of catching the eye of the Colorado Rapids or other MLS teams.

“It was the notice of USL Pro partnering with USA Soccer that triggered our initial interest in owning a franchise,” Ragain says. “We had expressed interest in having a professional sports franchise in the past, but I just never expected it to be soccer. I thought it’d be baseball.

“Our family background is definitely a sports background, but they didn’t even have soccer at my high school, so it’s not something I grew up with.”

Increasing the sport’s popularity in the city is a primary goal of the Ragain family.

“Our focus is really about the increase in education about the sport, about what’s going on down on the field and who the players are,” Ragain says. “We want to grow the sport locally.”

Colorado Springs has a strong soccer fan base, with a host of club teams supplementing high-quality play at the high school level. That foundation should help the Switchbacks fill the stands on a regular basis, and if an Oct. 18 exhibition game was any indication, the future looks bright for the team.

The Switchbacks’ hosted an exhibition between the LA Galaxy II and Arizona United SC, with nearly 3,000 soccer enthusiasts converging on Sand Creek Stadium to get a taste for what the USL Pro league will offer in 2015. The event was a grand success by all accounts.

“People couldn’t wait for this thing to come,” Switchbacks coach Steve Trittschuh says. “People loved it, and they want to come back for more.”

The Switchbacks hired Trittschuh, a former U.S. National Team member and U.S. Olympian, to coach the club, and he added assistant coach Wolde Harris in November. Trittschuh, who competed for the U.S. in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and 1990 World Cup, is excited about the prospect of guiding the club in its first year in the USL Pro.

“I’m excited about it, because guys who come in here are going to be hungry and are going to want to play at that next level,” says Trittschuh, a Colorado Rapids assistant coach from 2001-06. “It’s an exciting league. When you get those players who are hungry and will do anything they can to get to the next level, it’s fun.”

Trittschuh hosted open tryouts Nov. 22-23 and had to cap the entries at 140 because of field limitations. He has been pleasantly surprised by the level of interest for soccer in the Pikes Peak region and eagerly awaits the chance to develop players in Colorado Springs.

“The level of play is pretty high,” he says of the USL Pro league. “It’s not quite to the MLS level, but the USL Pro has a lot of younger players trying to get to that level. Part of my job is going to be to develop players - to get them there.”

One of those players, defender Jamie McGuinness of Watford, England, signed with the club in November. The 24-year-old moved to Florida a couple of years ago to pursue his pro career in the U.S. after playing professionally in his home country, and he is thrilled to be part of the Switchbacks.

“I’m so excited about it,” McGuinness says. “It’s an incredible opportunity I’m looking forward to. I can’t wait for the season to get going.”

As a commitment to the community, the Switchbacks began a $2 million stadium renovation last year that will improve the facility. The Colorado Springs City Council approved a 10-year lease for the Switchbacks to use Sand Creek Stadium, with part of the parking proceeds going to the Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation Department.

“Parks will benefit from parking fees, and the team will pay rent on the field,” Ragain says. “We like it because it fits us well and fits the city well - it’s really a mutual benefit. We’re pleased, and we know the city is pleased as well.”