Lights FC's defense was one of only 7 that didn't allow a goal in their first USL Championship game of the 2019 season.
Las Vegas, NV – Lights FC kicked off the 2019 USL Championship campaign by outshooting its opponent by a double-digit margin in a scoreless draw against Austin Bold FC at Cashman Field. Now it’s time to take the show on the road for Eric Wynalda’s team as they’ll visit OKC Energy FC in what will mark Lights FC’s first match outside of Las Vegas in 2019, going undefeated in their first 9 games of the year (including an undefeated 7-1-0 in pre-season) with all of them played in Sin City.
Playing away from Vegas is something new that Lights FC needs to get used to quickly, as 5 of their next 7 games will be on the road. “Going to Oklahoma is going to be a tough test for us because I think our group knows how to play at home right now”, said Lights FC manager Eric Wynalda. “We didn’t get the best result out of Austin, but getting points on the road is going to define our season. It’s imperative that we put together a really good performance to make sure that we get something out of this trip."
If Lights FC gets another clean sheet, that guarantees they will continue adding points in the USL Championship Western Conference standings. A key for a potential shutout is Las Vegas native goalkeeper Thomas Olsen, who will face the team he made his pro debut against on September 28, 2018, where he shined despite Energy FC leaving Cashman Field with a 1-0 win. He was also the substitute goalkeeper when Las Vegas made the trip to Oklahoma City on July 11, 2018 and lost 6-4 in a wild game.
It will be a difficult match, but one that the Bishop Gorman grad nicknamed ‘TKO’ has confidence that Lights FC can come out of with the victory. “OKC just came off a win, they got a good team and a good environment, it’s a hard place to play in”, said Olsen. “But I think we have a good team to go in there and shock some people”.
The back line has been solid all around with Kevin Garcia Lopez, Gabe Robinson and Javan Torre being undisputed starters in it. Torre, UCLA grad and former US Men’s National Team player in the youth level, knows with his experience that the team’s confidence gets built from back to front and isn’t worried about going into a hostile environment. “It goes back to taking care of those fundamentals, having the awareness to defend well first and then let the game build naturally”, stated Torre. “We have plenty of talent going forward, so that shouldn’t be a problem for us”.
Lights FC remains undefeated both in their season openers and home openers in 2018 and 2019.
SATURDAY’S OPPONENT : OKC ENERGY FC
Lights FC’s opponent from the Sooner State began their 2019 campaign with a 3-1 road win over El Paso Locomotive, with Deshorne Brown scoring a brace. Each of Brown’s goals put Energy FC ahead in the score (1-0 just 12 seconds after the game started, and 2-1 in the 54th minute).
OKC was one of only three teams in the Western Conference to kick off the season with a win, joining Colorado Springs and Tacoma in a tie for 1st place with 3 points each. Six week 1 games in the West ended in a draw, Las Vegas is tied with 11 other teams in 4th place with a point each.
Steve Cooke is in his second season coaching Energy FC. Missing the playoffs in 2018 ended with a roster overhaul for OKC, including the addition of former Lights FC midfielder Rafael Garcia. The 2-time MLS Cup Champion was a mid-season addition for Las Vegas in its inaugural year, playing 13 games for Lights FC in which he scored a goal and had an assist in 1,100 minutes of action.
Oklahoma City is a squad with a lot of experience both in the US Pro Soccer landscape & internationally, featuring players like Alexi Bosetti (OGC Nice - Ligue 1 France & 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup champion with France), Cordell Cato (135 MLS appearances and 27 caps for Trinidad and Tobago), Omar Gordon (18 caps for Jamaica), Mekeil Williams (27 caps with Trinidad and Tobago), Nicolas Taravel (Grenoble Foot 38 - Ligue 2 France & France’s U-19 and U-20 national teams), Atiba Harris (Saint Kitts & Nevis national team captain and MLS veteran with 276 appearances).
Cody Laurendi is the starting goalkeeper for Energy FC. After missing most of the 2018 season with a knee injury, Laurendi returned to play in 9 of OKC’s final 11 games of the year. His team added 6 wins , 2 losses and a draw in those matches.
After kicking off the 2019 season with a clean sheet, Thomas Olsen will now face the team against whom he made his professional debut in 2018: OKC Energy FC.
LIGHTS FC NOTES HEADING INTO SATURDAY'S MATCH:
CLEAN SHEET FOR TKO
With local product Thomas Olsen getting the nod as the team’s starting goalkeeper for 2019, he got his first clean sheet as a professional on Opening Night against Austin Bold FC. Giving Las Vegas their first shutout in their first regular season match of the year. In its inaugural season, Lights FC was only able to shut out their opponents in 3 of their 34 regular season games.
Eric Wynalda trusts every player he signed to a Lights FC contract, for some of them this is the biggest opportunity they’ve received and they’re ready to leave it all on the line for their team manager. Three players made their professional debut on Saturday March 9 against Austin: Kevin Garcia Lopez, Gabe Robinson & Eric Gonzalez. As a player, Wynalda has a lot of credentials that have him as one of the All-Time US Pro Soccer greats …. but the match against Bold FC was also his debut in the USL Championship level as a manager.
“Lights 2.0” (as this years team has been nicknamed by fans) has a younger and faster roster, a key for Wynalda’s style of play where his teams put a big amount of pressure on their opponents that will eventually end up with them making a mistake and Las Vegas having the ball in their possession. That was shown in their first game of the season, where they limited Austin to a league-low 59% pass accuracy.
Las Vegas led the league in a statistical department in 2018, but it wasn’t a flattering one: being issued a total of 105 cards (99 yellows & 6 reds). In a total of 23 games Lights FC was issued 3 or more cards, in 16 there were 4 or more.
That has quickly changed with Eric Wynalda at the helm, as the team only got 2 cautions against Austin Bold FC and they were against offensive players (Irvin Parra - forward, and Matt Thomas - midfielder).
MLS SPRING TRAINING
When Major League Soccer Spring Training debuted in February 2018, Lights FC was defeated by all 3 MLS opponents they faced at Cashman Field: 2-0 vs Montreal Impact, 3-2 vs Vancouver Whitecaps and 4-2 vs DC United.
But in 2019 Las Vegas defended their home pitch, getting their first victory over a Major League Soccer team by trouncing 2017 MLS Cup champions Toronto FC by a score of 5-1. Following it up with a close matchup with Colorado Rapids that ended with a 2-2 draw, in which Lights FC was the clear aggressor by accumulating a total of 11 shots on goal.
Since training camp kicked off, Lights FC played a total of 8 preseason matches. Their undefeated record was close to being a perfect one, as they won 7 of those matches and their only draw came against Major League Soccer side Colorado Rapids 2-2. In these preparation games, Las Vegas outscored their opponents by an aggregate of 31 goals to 9.
What do opponents feel when is coming their way with the ball? DANGER and that’s the nickname of the Inglewood native who shined in preseason action.
Against Toronto FC he got the start and played 65 minutes, in which he became a headache for the MLS team by having 4 shots on goal, scoring on one of those opportunities, a pair of them hitting the posts and the other being a save by goalkeeper Alex Bono. He scored a brace against USL Championship side Orange County SC, leading Lights FC to victory 2-1 in the preseason finale for Las Vegas.
Lights FC Owner and CEO Brett Lashbrook made the commitment that the team would always have a local player on the team. Of the 5 returnees from the inaugural season roster, 3 of them are players born & raised in Las Vegas: Goalkeepers Thomas Olsen (Bishop Gorman) and Angel Alvarez (Rancho H.S.), plus midfielder Matt Thomas (Palo Verde H.S.). Thomas was the Vegas native that saw most playing time last year as he was on the pitch for a total of 22 matches, in which he scored 3 goals including the first ever in franchise regular season history.
The 6’2 defender has stood out as the leader of Lights FC’s back line. A graduate of UCLA where he had a standout 4 year career, Torre was selected with the 56th overall pick in the 2016 MLS Superdraft by Colorado Rapids, although he didn’t sign with them. Got his first big break in the professional ranks when he joined FSV Frankfurt for the 2017-2018 season in Germany, now he’s back in the country he represented in the youth level in prestigious competitions like the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the Toulon Tournament in France and the Concacaf U-20 Championship.
UNITED NATIONS OF SOCCER
Jokingly, Eric Wynalda says that his team is the United Nations of Soccer because of the diversity that he has in his locker room. Players born in 6 different countries are a part of Lights FC’s roster, but a total of 12 nations are represented as there are players who have dual citizenship like Javan Torre (USA/Brazil), Edwin Rivas (USA/Guatemala), Pablo Cruz (USA/Honduras), Bryan Arguez (USA/Cuba) and Mobi Fehr (who actually has 3 nationalities as he was born in Manhattan, New York, but his mother is from Japan and his father is from Switzerland). The only continent not represented in Lights FC’s roster is Australia …. maybe coach Wynalda can scout talent “Down Under” for the team to complete the UNITED NATIONS OF SOCCER BINGO GAME.
Lights FC out shot Austin 18 to 8, being the clear aggressor against a defensive minded Bold FC.