Thursday, January 26, 2017

New professional cycling race coming to Colorado Springs

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 11:13 AM

This summer, a new four-day cycling circuit called the Colorado Classic will kick off in Colorado Springs. The first stage will be held here, the second in Breckenridge and the final two in Denver. Each stage will start and end in the same location, so fans can catch many more than one glimpse of the cyclists. The route isn't yet finalized, but organizers suggest it'll include both downtown and more rugged roads. 

"Attracting this sort of high profile event is great news for Colorado Springs,"  said Mayor John Suthers in the announcement. "Along with the prestige of elite sport, the Classic will bring significant tourism dollars, thousands of visitors and positive national and international coverage for our beautiful city."

  • Colorado Springs Sports Corp
Colorado Springs Sports Corp is the organizing committee of the local stage. President and CEO Tom Osborne, says in the release that the Corp "is absolutely thrilled to be able to help bring back elite professional cycling to the state. We are honored that our city was awarded the first stage of this spectacular event."

The announcement comes as professional cycling struggles to get footing domestically. Past events like the USA Pro Challenge of course hoped to be sustainable in the long-run, but that particular race died after 2015's running, having launched in 2011.

More details about the Colorado Classic route, public participation opportunities and musical performances are forth-coming, but the dates are set on August 10-13. The race is being produced by RPM Events Group, with sponsors including USA Pro Cycling, the City of Colorado Springs, Nor'Wood Development, El Pomar Foundation, the Guadagnoli family and the Gazette.

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Win a $10,000 bike for $10 and support a good cause

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 10:59 AM


The American Diabetes Association of Colorado
has their work cut out for them.

Yes, Colorado is usually rated as one of the healthiest states in the nation. But that doesn't mean that we don't have a problem with diabetes. As the Association notes, "Coloradans are increasingly feeling the effects of diabetes as 410,312 Coloradans suffer from the disease, and an additional 1.3 million more have prediabetes. It is estimated that one out of every three children born after 2000 in the United States will be directly affected by diabetes."

Since diabetes causes more death in a year than breast cancer and AIDS combined — and is a major risk factor for heart attacks — that's a serious problem. A number of factors contribute to a person developing Type 2 diabetes (by far the most common type), including genetics and ethnic heritage. Being overweight, as most Americans are, is a contributing factor as well. 

Thus, eating healthy and exercising regularly is a good way to lower your risk of getting Type 2 diabetes, as well as managing the disease if you already have it. Which brings me to this $10 bike.

On Oct. 7, the American Diabetes Association of Colorado is hosting a Cycling Social at Bar K,  124 E. Costilla St., at 6 p.m. Attendees can buy $10 raffle tickets for the "Johnson & Johnson Bike," which was made locally by  Jeff Tessier of Tessier Bikes at the show, but they can also buy them in advance. It's all a part of the 2016 Tour de Cure event. 

Here's a little more information about this beautiful bike from the Tour de Cure:

• The bike is made out of Stainless Steel, which DePuy Synthes uses to create trauma products.
• The headset is made from highly polished stainless steel which represents the material and processes used by DePuy to create joint reconstruction parts.
• The red paint represents the American Diabetes Association and the Red Riders (cyclists riding with diabetes) and Red Striders (walkers or runners with diabetes) that we support! Go Red Rider!
• The chevrons on the top tube represent the lancets that people with diabetes use every single day.
• The red drops on the top tube and chainstays represent the blood needed to test blood sugar every single day.
• The wheels represent that DePuy Synthes is a one world company.
• The head tube badge represents our commitment to quality and living our CREDO
• Life with diabetes isn't always easy - but you aren't in it alone! Team DePuy Synthes participates in Tour to make a difference in the lives of people living every day with diabetes.
• The bike includes Enve Fork, White IND Hubs, Custom-Made Head Set, FSA Stem & Bar, Custom Seat, Seat Bag, & Handlebar Tape, and Campagnola Super Record 11 Groupset - total worth is over $10,000!

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

We have playoff competition in the Springs AGAIN!

Posted By on Sat, Sep 17, 2016 at 10:49 AM

  • Courtesy Isiah Downing
The Colorado Switchbacks FC have had to plow a tough furrow this season. Last season, being their inaugural, they enjoyed the element of surprise. They were largely unknown and surprised many by reaching the USL (United Soccer League) playoffs at their first attempt.

Additionally, playing in Colorado has its advantages, with Switchbacks Stadium (aka Fortress Sand Creek) being higher even in elevation than the Rapids’ Dicks Sporting Goods Park. Visiting teams tried to go toe-to-toe with the Switchbacks only to find themselves sucking wind by the second half the game and practically on their knees in the final minutes. Not so this year. Traveling teams have wised-up, routinely battening down the hatches, taking a far more cautious and defensive "thrust and parry" type of approach to the game.

In the off-season, Colorado Springs fans applauded when the organization was able to re-sign 15 players from the 2015 roster. Great news, right? By and large yes; but that’s also meant the Switchbacks have had very few surprises to spring on their opposition in 2016. With a few notable exceptions (Christian Ibeagha, Taesong Kim, and the ever-present Josh Suggs), the squad has been largely familiar faces — and opposition teams have taken advantage of that. Last year’s most potent offensive players, Luke Vercollone and Miguel Gonzalez, have been marked men, stifling them somewhat, limiting the number of goals they've been able to score, frustrating them, the team, and the fans in the process.

In short, the Switchbacks have truly had to earn everything they’ve achieved this year. What they’ve achieved, despite all of that sophomore adversity, is a place in the USL Western Conference playoffs for the second successive season!

By beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 2, a team that has spent the majority of the year atop of the USL Western Conference table, the Switchbacks propelled themselves to second spot in the league with just a couple of regular season games to go. The team isn’t settling though. Speaking with organizational and team leadership, including head coach Steve Trittschuh and skipper Luke Vercollone, they won’t consider the league done until a top two spot is a lock — as either a first or second placing would secure a vital home-field playoff advantage.

I know the team would love to top the Western Conference at the end of the regular season, but having missed out on home-field advantage by a single point last season, which meant they had to take a tough and ultimately season-ending trip to Oklahoma City in the second round of the play-offs, they are determined not to fall into the same trap again this year.

This season certainly hasn’t been as straight-forward as the last, when much was made of the team’s free scoring status that put them at the top of the "Goals For" table in the Western Conference. However, it’s exactly that that ability to overcome whatever roadblocks other teams have thrown at the Switchbacks this outing that has made their latest playoff achievement all the more impressive. And it’s exactly that sort of character, resiliency and adaptability that will, I believe, see them secure one of those top two spots, starting by beating the Seattle Sounders 2 Saturday night. Having lost to the Sounders twice by a single goal, both times in Seattle, the Switchbacks will be keen for some measure of revenge.

This is championship competition right in our own backyard, folks. This is the business end of the season. This is when your Colorado Springs Switchbacks need you most. Let’s get out there and enjoy it!

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett, or the Back Chat show on KCMJ 93.9.
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Friday, August 26, 2016

Suthers sends local Paralympians off to Rio

Posted By on Fri, Aug 26, 2016 at 10:33 AM

City Councilors Tom Strand, left, and Larry Bagley, joined Mayor John Suthers, right, in bidding farewell and good luck to the U.S. Paralympic Swim Team on Friday morning. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • City Councilors Tom Strand, left, and Larry Bagley, joined Mayor John Suthers, right, in bidding farewell and good luck to the U.S. Paralympic Swim Team on Friday morning.

Mayor John Suthers
helped send off the U.S. Paralympic Team on Friday morning at the Colorado Springs Airport.

The team flew to Houston before going on to Rio de Janeiro for the Paralympic Games, which begin Sept. 7.

Colorado Springs had 56 athletes on Team USA for both the Olympics and Paralympics this year.

Among members of the swimming team were Leslie Nichols, the director, and team members: Tharon Drake, Tucker Dupree, Tye Dutcher, Rudolph Garcia-Tolson, Sophia Herzog, Nathan Manley, Elizabeth Marks, Letticia Martinez and Martha Ruether.

Other members of the team include:
Cycling: Ryan Boyle, Allison Jones, Billy Lister, Shawn Morelli, Scott Martin.
Judo: Dartanyon Crockett, Ben Goodrich and Myles Porter.
Shooting: Jazmin Almlie-Ryan, McKenna Dahl, Tammy Delano and Mike Tagliapietra.

In addition, Fort Carson sent two Paralympians, including Sgt. Elizabeth Marks in swimming and Sgt. Michael Lukow in archery.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Soldiers will do battle — in Rio Olympic Games

Posted By on Mon, Jul 11, 2016 at 2:37 PM

Carson soldiers will compete in the 2016 summer games. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Carson soldiers will compete in the 2016 summer games.
For all those who thought soldiers did nothing but protect our country 24/7, here's news about Fort Carson's contribution of athletes to the U.S. Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro next month.

According to a news release, the Mountain Post will introduce 15 Army "soldier athletes" at a media availability on Tuesday at 10 a.m. They'll compete in seven sports.

From the release: 
Fifteen Soldiers will represent in seven sports as athletes and coaches at the Olympic Games. Col. J.J. Love, U.S. Army Installation Management Command deputy G9 and chief of staff, will open the press conference. Media will have the opportunity to conduct one-on-one interviews with Soldier-Olympians. The remainder of the day will be demonstrations in the sports the Soldier-Olympians will be representing at the Games.

The Soldier-Olympians are:
Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson – Shooting
Staff Sgt. Michael Lukow - Para Archery
Staff Sgt. John Nunn - Track and Field
Sgt. Hillary Bor – Track and Field
Sgt. Elizabeth Marks - Para Swimming
Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher - Modern Pentathlon
Sgt. Caylor Williams – Wrestling (alternate)
Sgt. Whitney Conder – Wrestling (alternate)
Spc. Paul Chelimo – Track and Field
Spc. Shadrack Kipchirchir - Track and Field
Spc. Leonard Korir - Track and Field
Spc. Ildar Hafizov – Wrestling (alternate)
Capt. Andrew Locke - Rugby 7's
Sgt. 1st Class Joe Guzman - BoxingStaff Sgt. Dennis Bowsher - Modern Pentathlon
So now you can watch for these competitors when viewing the televised games, and cheer your soldiers on.

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Football Fairytales

Posted By on Sun, Jun 5, 2016 at 7:33 AM

Well, they did it. The fairytale came true. Leicester City F.C., in winning the English Premier League title, secured their place in the pantheon of greatest underdog achievements ever seen in the English game, or anywhere for that matter.

Alongside back-to-back European Cup winners Nottingham Forest, still the smallest club to ever win that coveted trophy, and Wimbledon, who in a little over a decade came from non-league obscurity to toppling the goliath that was Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final, and even the 1960/61 Spurs that delivered the first-ever double-winning English team, Leicester City’s name can and should be spoken with the same reverent tones.

At 5000-1 at the start of the season, having narrowly escaped relegation from the EPL the season before, Leicester City were perhaps the longest of long-shots that football has ever seen. Remarkably and, particularly after last seasons 'great escape', unimaginably they outsmarted, out-fought, often out-played and most importantly outscored the traditional giants of the English game.

As impressive as Leicester’s historic season was, there is another football fairytale that it's timely we be reminded of. On June 10th, France will host one of the most prestigious and hotly-contested international football tournaments on the planet, the European Championships. Former winners and current combatants will include international power-houses such as France, Germany, Holland, Italy and current back-to-back European champions, Spain. But the 1992 version of the competition provided the most unlikely team to ever upset the international form books — not least of all because until just 10 days prior to the tournament kicking-off the team in question, Denmark, wasn’t even in the competition!

Having failed to qualify for the tournament finishing second to Yugoslavia in qualifying, the Danish team had already disbanded for the summer, with many players reportedly sunning themselves on various exotic beaches. However, when UEFA announced that the Yugoslavian team wouldn't not be allowed to participate in the Euros due to international sanctions in place because of an armed conflict in the region, Denmark were invited to the party.

Their staunch defensive style, coupled with a swift, incisive counter-attack led by the mercurial forward, Brian Laudrup, took Denmark to the top a round-robin group consisting of Euro heavyweights England and France. The Danish players free of the shackles of expectation knocked out the reining European champions and red-hot favorites Holland. Despite bursting at the seams with Dutch skill and attacking talent, none on the Netherlands team could penetrate the barrier that was ‘The Great Dane’, reds goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel. 

And so to the final, and Germany. Here the fairytale must have surely ended. Denmark had their fun but the current World Cup holders, the indomitable Germans, would undoubtedly crush the Danes and their fantastical dreams of ultimate glory. Denmark won the final 2-0, and in doing so wrote the last chapter of a fairytale the like of which one of their most famous storytelling sons, Hans Christian Andersen, would have been proud.

So can we say with complete certainty that the recent exploits of Leicester’s Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, and the familiarly named Kasper Schmeichel surpass those of any other team in the history of the game? I think Kasper’s father, the legendary Peter, might have a thing or two to say about that.

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett, or the Back Chat show on KCMJ 93.9.
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Sunday, April 24, 2016

The United [super-sized] Soccer League

Posted By on Sun, Apr 24, 2016 at 8:38 AM

The United Soccer League, most typically referred to as the USL, the league the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC compete in, is currently the third-tier league of the men’s professional soccer game. Sort of. If you were to look at its stats side by side with the supposed second tier league, the North American Soccer League, or NASL, you’d probably be left a little confused. 

The NASL has a single conference encompassing the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico (1 team), for a total of 12 teams. The USL, by comparison, has two conferences, east and west, with teams drawn from the U.S. and Canada. The eastern conference sports 14 teams and the west 15, giving the USL a total of 29 teams. Although the USL has almost three times as many teams as the NASL, this comparison may not seem that important, until you consider the respective leagues growth patterns.

The modern NASL, named for but with no connection to the more illustrious league with the same namesake in the 1970s and '80s, began its inaugural season in 2011 with eight teams, growing to its current 12-team count. Some teams have folded or left the league, new teams have joined, but the overall growth comes down to just three teams in past five years. The USL was also founded in 2011 with just a handful of teams but during the same five-year period has grown to nearly 30 teams. The USL expanded by five teams since the 2015 season, and has plans to increase that number again next year.

So why is the USL growing at such a meteoric rate whilst the NASL appears to flounder? Although this new NASL shares nothing but a name with its predecessor, it has attracted some of the same marque soccer brands to its competition. What dyed-in-the-wool American soccer fan doesn’t get a little misty eyed at the mention of the New York Cosmos, once home to the legendary Pele, or the Fort Lauderdale Strikers or Tampa Bay Rowdies? But nostalgia is one thing, enticing fans to come through the turnstiles is another.

The aforementioned teams, three of the most traditionally popular in the NASL, averaged attendances of less than 5,000 per home game in 2015. The Switchbacks saw attendances of around 3,000 in 2015, their inaugural season, which was actually only about 700 less than the USL average attendance for the year.

Newer USL teams like the Switchbacks, Arizona United, Charlotte and St Louis are taking steps to swell their gates this season, whilst some freshmen teams are already putting up astonishing attendance numbers. San Antonio FC, formerly the Scorpions of the NASL, and the Switchbacks next opponents this Saturday, April 23rd, sold-out their 8,300 capacity stadium for their home opener. And FC Cincinnati in Ohio, fellow USL newbies, clocked a league record for a regular season game attendance by welcoming nearly 25,000 fans to their home kick-off! 

In addition to having more rapid team growth and greater fan numbers, the USL quite simply seem to have out-maneuvered the NASL. In 2013, the MLS, Major League Soccer, the top-tier of men’s professional soccer in the U.S., and the USL formed an agreement whereby the MLS Reserve League would integrate with the USL. The purpose of the integration is to provide more development opportunities for fledgling MLS players, but one could argue that the greater benefit has been to the USL.

The soccer icons of old — the Cosmos, the Strikers and the Rowdies — have since been replaced by new powerhouses; the Red Bulls, the Sounders, and the Galaxy. And it's the USL with those names in their corner, albeit with the number "2" after them.

Some USL fans bemoan the inclusion of these "2" teams, complaining that they aren’t "real" teams with "real" fanbases like the Switchbacks. Perhaps they’re not "real teams" by the purest definition, but they are a draw for those curious about the developing professional soccer game, and, potentially, the key to the USL rightfully replacing the NASL as the actual second-tier league in the U.S.

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett, or the Back Chat show on KCMJ 93.9.
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Friday, April 8, 2016

Hometown Glory!

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2016 at 10:24 AM

The Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC return to familiar stomping grounds this weekend for their United Soccer League home opener at the newly christened Switchbacks Stadium.

Back in February, the City of Colorado Springs Parks Department voted unanimously to approve the name change from the former anemic and confusing-to-some "Sand Creek Stadium."

Even though it’ll always be Fortress Sand Creek to many hardcore Switchbacks fans, why is the name change significant? Because it also represents a sea-change. As Kurt Schroeder, Park Operations and Development Manager explained following the sweeping vote, “The Switchbacks and the Ragain family have fully adopted Colorado Springs as their home and the team’s success on the pitch has been truly remarkable. It seemed only natural that our Sand Creek Stadium should be renamed to Switchbacks Stadium to recognize the positive impact the organization has had and the investment Ragain Sports has made to improve the quality of the facility.”

Is the city of Colorado Springs starting to embrace soccer, and with it the Switchbacks? It would seem so.

Last week, the team invited season ticket holders to an exclusive 2016 season launch party. Fans, Switchbacks leadership and staff, coaches and players, media and public figures, mingled, visited and discussed the exciting 2015 inaugural season and their hopes for 2016. Many were still high on the Switchbacks' incredible opening day USL victory the weekend before, when they beat the Oklahoma City Energy in Oklahoma by a score of 2-1. The Switchbacks lost or drew to both Oklahoma teams, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, in their previous five attempts. This year, they took advantage of their first opportunity — needless to say it was a hot topic of conversation at the launch party!

300 people crammed in to the Gold Room, filling the ground floor and the balcony above, drinking, talking, laughing and making new friends, all bound together by a common thread: their love for the Switchbacks. Last season a gathering of this size was but a dream. This year, with the teams’ mantra being "MyCity, My Team," Mayor John Suthers led the rallying cry at the event. "Colorado Springs is my city and this is my team!" Suthers yelled at the crowd. "Let's go Switchbacks!"

The Switchbacks are clearly making even more of an effort to engage with our city in 2016. This year has already seen an increased Switchbacks presence in our community, with players routinely visiting youth YMCA clubs, schools and others, and the team's 2016 uniforms proudly display the new city logo.

The Switchbacks have their USL home opening game this Saturday, April 9th, at 1:30pm, against the Arizona United, and I know they would be delighted to have you there to cheer on your hometown team. As Head Coach and former US Men’s International player Steve Trittschuh said on the Back Chat Show on KCMJ 93.9 FM this week, “I think back to the last home game of last season, the play-off game versus Seattle, and the atmosphere was electric. It was a special night. We want more of those, so please come on out and lend your support.”

When the coach of the highest scoring team in the USL western conference last season asks for your support, and the organization continues to demonstrate its commitment to the city, and when the Mayor leads the rallying cry, doesn’t that pique your interest even a little?

See you at the Fortress!

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett, or the Back Chat show on KCMJ 93.9.
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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Olympic museum project gets boost from Daniels Fund

Posted By on Thu, Feb 25, 2016 at 9:53 AM

The Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame got a boost with a big grant from the Daniels Fund. The museum is expected to open in early 2018 just in the area southwest of downtown.

Here's the announcement:
The U.S. Olympic Museum announced today that it has received a $500,000 Daniels Fund grant to support its capital campaign.

“In the spirit of Bill Daniels, the U.S. Olympic Museum will not only celebrate our nation's top amateur athletes in a world class venue, but also inspire young visitors to train and compete in sports,” U.S. Olympic Museum Chairman Dick Celeste said. “An important economic driver for Colorado, we are grateful for the local support of the Daniels Fund.”

“The U.S. Olympic Museum will generate additional tourism and jobs for Colorado, and further solidify Colorado Springs as Olympic City USA” according to Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who added, “We can take great pride in this unique asset as a celebration of our City’s identity and the accomplishments of our nation’s greatest athletes, many of whom are training here locally.”

The Daniels Fund, established by cable television pioneer Bill Daniels, is a private charitable foundation dedicated to making life better for the people of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming through its grants program, scholarship program, and ethics initiative. Visit to learn more.

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Let the games begin

Posted By on Sat, Feb 13, 2016 at 9:12 AM


A steady stream of press releases from the Switchbacks FC over the past few weeks shows them piecing together the core of last season’s exceptional team. Aside from losing their strong back-up keeper, Samir Badr,  who’s now plying his trade with United Soccer League team Bethlehem Steel, Pennsylvania, and one or two other fringe p layers, their staunch defense remains intact. Badr’s spot has already been filled by former USL Professional Development League goalkeeper of the year, Billy Thompson. Standing at 6’6 and with a huge kick in his arsenal, he should provide real competition to the teams starter, Devala Gorrick.

The steely Josh Phillips, fresh off his trial with the Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, will resume his central defensive partnership with the silky JJ Greer. Last year’s winner of the Supporters Young Player of the Season Jordan Burt and utility man Nate Robinson will once again provide support in the fullback positions. They will face some very stiff competition, though, with the coming of former OC Blues left-back Josh Suggs. Suggs is a vastly experienced pro, having played extensively in the USL as well a couple of stints in the MLS. Most recently he captained OC Blues to the Western Conference title. So, in addition to playing quality, he undoubtedly brings leadership skills to the Switchbacks ranks, too.

Speaking of leadership skills, team skipper Luke Vercollone and fellow midfielders Shin Harada, Rony Argueta, Davy Armstrong and Kevin Durr have all been confirmed as returning this season. And the team's forward line will be back to full strength with Miguel Gonzalez, Aaron King, Mike Seth, Marty Maybin and Saeed Robinson all having re-signed.

In addition to player confirmations, the latest news out of the club details the Switchbacks pre-season game schedule.

This weekend's opening practice game pits them against Real Colorado, at Heritage Field, Centennial. That opener is quickly followed by away games at AFA on February 27th, CSU Pueblo on March 5th, and School of Mines in Golden on March 8th. The Switchbacks will then welcome UCCS to their turf on March 12th, and I’m sure the team will be hoping that their hometown supporters turn-up en masse to welcome them back to Fortress Sand Creek!

The Colorado tour is followed up by a whistle-stop tour of California which will take them to the Ventura County Fusion on March 15th, then on to face Josh Suggs and Billy Thompson’s old team-mates at OC Blues in Irvine on March 18th, before concluding their Golden State visit with a trip to L.A. to play Galaxy II on March 19th.

These games will undoubtedly offer some real clues as to the team shape this season, and the likely starting line-up for our opening USL game v OKC on March 26th. In addition to the new faces we know about, I’d be surprised not to see some more trialists take to the field as the coaching team continues to attempt to grow and bolster the current roster or 17 or so players. We'll have to wait and see.

Welcome back, Switchbacks!

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain, and co-hosting 'The Back Chat Show' on KCMJ 93.9 FM. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett.
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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Soccer: Sport for generations

Posted By on Sat, Jan 23, 2016 at 9:56 AM

  • Shutterstock

Something odd is happening on the American sporting landscape. Whilst according to the most recent surveys shared out by the New York Times, Forbes and Bloomberg, participation in American football, baseball and basketball are steadily declining.  Conversely, participation continues to rise dramatically in rugby, lacrosse and, most pleasingly from my point of view, soccer (aka actual football).

The especially encouraging news is that the growing interest in soccer can bee seen at all levels of the game.

10 years ago, Major League Soccer’s sustainability was in question. Today, the league has doubled its number of teams to 20, and more sports fans are identifying themselves as MLS converts than ever before. Colorado's professional team, the Colorado Rapids, for example, increased their average attendance by more than 50%, growing from a little over 10,000 in 1996, their inaugural year, to well over 15,000 in 2015.

The Colorado Springs Switchbacks, a United Soccer League professional team, are undoubtedly seeing a bump in interest and attendance, too, averaging around 3,000 fans per game last season. For a USL team, in a town not traditionally known as a "soccer hot-bed," this provides a lot of reasons to be optimistic. The Switchbacks exciting 2015, going deep in to the playoffs in their inaugural season, undoubtedly helped drive up their support numbers and will, hopefully, continue to drive their following into their second season.

This makes me wonder why soccer, a sport that for so long has been left on the doorstep of the popular American sports frat party — six-pack under arm, mournfully ringing the doorbell — now not only been granted entry to the party, but hanging out with the popular crowd and being eyed up by the cutest girls?

I’ll suggest three primary reasons: increased understanding, mass exposure and generational momentum. First, by increased understanding I mean of the nuances and workings of the game — Americans seem to need an understanding of the granular aspects of a sport — all the way down to seemingly irrelevant stats. Soccer had to work hard to make itself understood, or maybe more to the point, interesting enough for Americans to take the time to better understand it. Soccer appears to have reached that tipping point now, and American fans are beginning to really engage with the game.

What's helped facilitate that deeper understanding and increased enjoyment of the game has been the massive ramp up in exposure of the sport? Any given weekend you can watch half a dozen or more English Premier League games, as well as matches from several other European leagues, the MLS, South American and other international team matches, too. Last season, all 10 of the final English Premier League games were aired simultaneously across the various NBC networks, and they’re preparing to do the same again this May – now that’s exposure!

Increased understanding and mass exposure have found fertile ground in which the sport started to take root in recent years. This is due in large part to generational momentum.

Remember the stories your grandfather used to tell you about that funny old game of soccer he and a few friends used to try in the backyard on Sunday afternoons? Your Grandad tells that tale with a faraway away look in his eye, and just a hint of fondness in his voice. Well, he used to tell your Dad that story, too, inspiring him seek out the sport. He played for bit, and even got good enough to make the college team. Granted, their roster consisted of barely enough players to field a starting 11, but he still played soccer for his college! And then a real soccer player showed up at his school one year, and, boy, could he play! Watching him out there made one really appreciate the game — enough that when your Dad finished playing, he coached a little league team.

That’s where you come in; you grew up with the game, you learned how to play at an early age and did — you may have fallen in love with the game completely. Pass it on. The game is flourishing and is here to stay, as long as you share it.

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain, and co-hosting 'The Back Chat Show' on KCMJ 93.9 FM. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett.
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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Football united

Posted By on Sun, Nov 22, 2015 at 7:26 AM

  • Shutterstock
Of the 129 people currently confirmed dead following the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th, three perished at the Stade De France, the national football stadium located on the northern outskirts of the city. That number would have been much higher if the suicide bomber assigned to that location had not been barred entry to the stadium by several brave security guards, whose courage cost them their lives.  

The fact a game between France and Germany was taking place in the stadium at the time, the game itself and outcome of the game is clearly of not even secondary importance. I’m a rabid football fan, and I can’t even tell you without a Google search what the result of the match was.

Football stadiums, much like any other sports venue, can lend themselves to moments of terror, which given their closed quarters and large crowds can quickly spiral out of control, worsening the situation many-fold. That would undoubtedly have been the case last Friday evening had the evil-minded individual succeeded in his mission.

How, in the face of such horrific circumstances, does one put football in to any sort of context moving forwards? Will we ever be truly safe again at any major sporting venue? What’s our alternative; avoid attending live games just in case?

The French Footballing Federation’s response to this question was swift and definitive. The French team was due to travel to London, a city itself on constant high-alert, a few days after days after the attacks to play a friendly match against England. Though there were reports that some French players were not keen on play a game so soon after an attack on their capital, and understandably so, their football governing body was unequivocal in its stance: the game would go on.

And so, on Tuesday evening, English and French players stood alternately, side-by-side, in a circle in the center of the field. A tricolor wreath of flowers lay on the center spot, the night sky above them illuminated by the tricolor arch that the English FA had lit in honor of those who had perished the Friday before. At the edge of the field, English and French footballing dignitaries stood alongside their team coaches and English FA President, Prince William, in a show of unified sorrow and resolute solidarity.

As is football tradition, when recognizing moments of such tragedy, the crowd delivered a minutes applause for the victims followed by a perfectly observed minute of silence. But then something happened in Wembley Stadium that has never happened before, perhaps never happened in any football stadium before: At the playing of the national anthems, the entire 71,000 person crowd, Englander and Frenchman, joined together to sing the French choral, La Marseillaise. The hairs are still standing up on the back of my neck. I will never forget my homeland's stadium bathed in blue, white and red, flags, banners and scarfs held aloft with every voice in unison in an outpouring of support, of love.

Celebrated Liverpool coach, Bill Shankly, always good value for a hyperbolic quote, once said, "Football isn’t a matter of life or death, it’s more important than that." He was wrong, of course. I think one of his contemporaries, Carlo Ancelotti, was nearer the mark though in suggesting, "Football is the most important of the less important things in the world." We saw that on Tuesday night in London.

Football can serve an important purpose as a unifier, a healer, and provide a global stage upon which to show the rest of the world that though our hearts may be broken, our spirits are not.

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett, or @BackChatPodcast, a Switchbacks F.C. fan podcast on which he is a co-presenter.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Switchbacks playoff time is now!

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 1:14 PM

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Few things stir the senses, raise excitement levels and bring out real passion like sport. But sometimes I forget — being from overseas and all — that sports aren’t that cut and dried here in America.

In other countries you’re either “on-board” from day one or not at all, but not here. America has what I think is a unique third category of sports fan: the play-off supporter.

I’m not being critical when I say that, I’m really not. I understand that with so many sports to choose from, many of them with very lengthy seasons, it’s impossible to be invested in all of them 100 percent. And there’s actually some pretty sound logic to waiting a team out to see if they’re even worth your time, money and the little piece of your heart that inevitably gets taken by anyone whose colors you might don. In fact, I did something very similar this year.

In 2013, when it was announced that Colorado Springs was to be home to a new men’s professional football (soccer) team, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, I rolled my eyes. I figured it was just another football-shaped false dawn, a fly-by-night team that may just make it to the last game of their inaugural year before petering out in the off-season, never to return. I’m happy to say now how wrong I was.

Since their first ever exhibition game in October of last year, the Switchbacks have not only entertained visitors to Fortress Sand Creek, also known as Sand Creek Stadium, but this year finished the regulation season in an impressive third-place in the United Soccer League's western conference, and secured a slot in the all-important playoffs.

This is the real deal, and our boys from the Springs have gone toe-to-toe with top-tier teams all season long. Sept 25th at 7pm, they host Seattle Sounders 2, a team that essentially represents their Major League Soccer counterparts' reserve squad, in the first round of the playoffs. The Sounders aren’t recreational players, these are pro athletes on the verge of making the step up to the highest levels of the game here in the United States.

In addition to the intriguing team battle, there are some individual storylines that also whet the appetite. The rock at the heart of the Switchbacks defense, Josh Phillips, is Seattle-born and keen to show the Sounders that they let a good one slip away. And tricky forward Miguel Gonzalez, formerly of Washington State, scored against Seattle the last time the teams met several weeks back and is aiming to do the same on Friday night.

So if you’re the kind of sports fan who waits on the playoffs before investing in team, I get it. But just like the Switchbacks, your time is now. Colorado Springs has a very real chance of going all the way and bringing home a USL National Championship this year. That doesn’t happen very often in this town.

Join the Switchbacks faithful at Fortress Sand Creek on Friday night (tickets are still available, starting at just $10) and lend your voice to the local team. I guarantee you’ll be so impressed that you won’t be able to help yourself from supporting them from day one next season.

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weather's good. Follow him on Twitter @melchett, or @BackChatPodcast, a Switchbacks F.C. fan podcast on which he is a co-presenter.
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Sunday, August 23, 2015

My cheatin’ heart

Posted By on Sun, Aug 23, 2015 at 7:04 AM

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The moment I learned that Major League Baseball was plagued by illegal steroid use was a dark day. Watching Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire battle for not only the 1998 record, but also the all-time, single-season home run crown was the riveting stuff of legend for a 12 year-old boy from the Midwest. Some years later, when it became apparent that they had cheated, it felt as if someone had taken Santa Claus away from me for a second time; my real life heroes were reduced to weak, crooked men.

By the time Lance Armstrong admitted to doping during his unbelievable stretch of seven consecutive Tour De France victories, I had already become so jaded and callused to the notion of premier athletes cheating for checks and pride that I met the news with little more than a shrug.
Now, the NFL’s golden boy, Tom Brady, is mired in a cheating scandal and even though the media’s attention to the story is monumental — due largely to Tom Terrific’s celebrity status — it barely registers as background noise to me. Some of that has to do with the convoluted nature of “Deflategate,” and the fact that a few PSIs of air-pressure here and there doesn’t seem like a transgression quite the same caliber as the year-in-year-out juicers. But my flippant attitude towards cheating in the world of professional sports has been cultivated over time by being constantly let down and disappointed.

When I was a wide-eyed child I would marvel at feats of strength and endurance, and be inspired by stories of tremendous obstacles overcome on the way to achieving greatness. But from pine tar and corked bats to the bribery of Olympic judges, a perpetual sense of doubt formed somewhere in my brain. The pang in my heart grew over time, so much so that eventually I would question the legitimacy of all great accomplishments.

I chalked it all up to growing up, becoming an adult, being hip and wise to the ways of the world — I hated it. I missed the feeling of being riddled with shivers and goose bumps whenever an historic moment was unfolding. I felt like a great gift had been taken away from me.

I’m saddened by the fact that there are truly tremendous, honest athletes doing remarkable things in their sports and in their lives. Until a rumor, allegation or investigation takes place, there’s no way of differentiating the cheats from the straight shooters.

Herein lies the problem and the question. Do you allow yourself to become caught up in the miraculous and inspirational moments in sports, then deal with the possible fallout from discovering that it could’ve all been a sham? Or do you assume that all professional athletes are money-grubbing, fame-hawking liars so that it won’t sting so much when things turn out that way?

I’ve identified with the latter for some time now, but being a fan of something you no longer believe in is a fruitless endeavor. Living in doubt is exhausting and breeds gloom — If I could go back and erase the moment that I learned that Santa Claus wasn’t real, I would. Even if that means that I’d be prancing around like a nut, doing good deeds in hopes for a new set of Hot-Wheels, I wouldn’t care. I miss the magic of it.

In that same spirit, when it comes to professional sports, I’d like to start choosing hope. Even if it’s false.      

Nic R. Krause was born a cranky, curmudgeon of a child in a Minnesota suburb. He was plucked from the muggy tundra and relocated to Colorado Springs 22 years ago. From intramural jai-alai, to his complicated relationship with the Minnesota Vikings, Nic, plainly stated, is bonkers for sports. Follow him on Twitter @NicRKrause.
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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hello old friend, welcome back!

Posted By on Sun, Jul 12, 2015 at 7:00 AM

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Nearly a year ago, I wrote of how disillusioned I had become about a most beloved pastime, watching football, aka soccer. The piece followed the men’s football World Cup, and bemoaned all the negative things about the game that I had become increasingly tired of; the diving and cheating; the adverse influence of money and sponsorship; the constant barracking of officials both on and off the field and the instant iconizing of very average players indeed. It wasn’t the game I had grown up watching or playing, it felt irrevocably tarnished and tainted.

12 months later, however, I’m surprised and delighted to report a couple of things that have begun to shift my opinion.

In late March, the newly-formed Colorado Springs USL football team, the Switchbacks, took to the field at Sand Creek Stadium. I was part of the curious crowd trying to determine if the franchise was just another soon-to-be-a-memory pretender, or in fact the real deal. Although they narrowly lost that opening home game of the season, I saw more than enough to suggest that these guys actually gave a damn.

The heart they displayed on the field, and the appreciation they had for their fans encouraged me to return – and I haven’t stopped going since! This was, dare I suggest, proper football. These guys weren’t out there for the paycheck or for individual glory; they appeared to genuinely love playing the game. I have to confess, it freaked me out a little bit.

Last weekend, millions saw more evidence of what the beautiful game is supposed to be about. After three grueling weeks of competition, England’s women’s football team deservedly secured a third place finish at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Since the tournaments’ inception in 1991, England’s Lionesses had never gotten past the quarter finals. Were it not for an agonizing own-goal in the final minute of their semi-final, England could have been squaring off against the American women’s team in the Final last Sunday. Instead, they picked themselves up and for the first time in over 20 years – and 20 attempts – beat the world number one ranked team, Germany, 1-0, making history and securing their first medals in the process.

But more than that, and perhaps more importantly than that, the Lionesses truly inspired a nation of English children, particularly girls. Girl’s football in England has traditionally been a backwater — boys have always ruled the game. The Lionesses played with a passion and pride that shamed their male counterparts, and English football, especially the women’s game, will undoubtedly reap the benefit.

Similarly, we saw the American women’s team excel in the same tournament, vanquishing the ghosts of 2011 as they beat Japan to become World Champions. Judging by the response to these and other nations women’s teams extraordinary displays of skill and determination, and with the women’s World Cup Final being the most watched football game in U.S. history, there’s plenty to get excited about – or in my case, get excited about all over again – when it comes to modern day professional football. At least some of it.

The highest levels of the men’s professional game could and need to pay attention to what’s going on further down their food-chain, as well as across the aisle in the women’s game, where true football still flourishes. Fans are starting to see that players like those at Sand Creek Stadium, and those who entertained us in Canada these past few weeks are different. They play for what’s on the front of the jersey, the team badge, believing that the name on the back will be appreciated more because of it.

And you know what? They’re right.

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weathers good. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett, or @BackChatPodcast, a Switchbacks F.C. fan podcast on which he is a co-presenter.

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