The Colorado Springs Switchbacks defeated USL foe Arizona United 3-0 in the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Wednesday night.
Arizona United SC’s most successful run in the US Open Cup ended with a lopsided elimination at the hands of a familiar enemy. The Switchbacks and United had already played two matches this season prior to this game that were within USL play, with the Switchbacks coming out on top both times, 2-0 in Colorado and 3-1 in Arizona. The Switchbacks own the all-time series between the clubs, winning all four matches in league play. Colorado also holds the Arizona United team record for largest margin of defeat in franchise history, a 5-0 loss United suffered during the 2015 season.
“We’ve kind of got a rivalry going, I wouldn’t say we don’t like each other, we both get up for the games,” said Switchback goalkeeper Billy Thompson.
The Switchbacks had control throughout much of the game, and they were able to capitalize on an opportunity in the 39th minute to get the scoring started. A free kick saved by United keeper Jordan Stagmiller was rebounded in by Switchbacks midfielder and captain Luke Vercollone to put the Switchbacks on the board first.
In the 59th minute, forward Aaron King struck again for Colorado off of a deflected shot from forward Saeed Robinson. Vercollone kept his hot streak going late in the game, scoring his second goal in the 83rd minute to seal victory for the visitors. For Vercollone, it was his fourth and fifth US Open Cup goals of his career.
The Switchbacks normally play much more of an up-tempo, pressing style defense, which would obviously wear players out quickly in the heat. Players praised the coaching staff after the game for putting together a game plan that focused on countering attacks instead of trying to just create them, and as Thompson said “hats off to the coaching staff, they got us prepared and we came out and executed.”
“We had a gameplan and we stuck to it,” Vercollone said after the game. When asked about preparing for a match in the Arizona heat, Vercollone said “We actually wore rain jackets at practice leading up to it.”
The night for Arizona United was marked by frustration. Head coach Frank Yallop, a three-time US Soccer Major champion (2 MLS Cups, 1 MLS Supporters’ Shield), was sent off in the 45th minute for dissent towards the officials, as he was loudly berating them from early on in the game.
The temperature was creeping around 100 degrees throughout the duration of the match, leading to several mandatory water breaks called by the officials. Three United players also received yellow cards: midfielders Luke Rooney and Blair Gavin, along with forward Tyler Blackwood.
“I can understand his frustration, I don’t want to badmouth the ref too much, him, the fourth official, and the linesmen have made terrible calls,” said Rooney when asked about his head coach being sent off.
United did not lack in opportunities, however, as the team had numerous corner attempts and chances to score but could not get it done. Their best opportunity may have come in the first half. In the 38th minute, forward Long Tan got the ball inside the box and spun a shot around that was deflected away by Thompson. Blackwood came sprinting in from the top and got his head on the ball, but a diving kick save by Switchbacks defender Josh Suggs kept United off the board.
The Switchbacks now advance to the Fourth Round of the Open Cup tournament, where they will play at their in-state MLS rival, the Colorado Rapids, on June 15. It is a rematch from last season where the Rapids won handily, 4-1.