Pablo Cruz received the opportunity to play Cal FC, the team with which he shined in the 2012 US Open Cup that propelled him into becoming a professional soccer player.
LAS VEGAS, NV - It was an emotional night for both sides, with a lot of familiar faces on the field between Lights FC and Cal FC, but at the end of the match it was Las Vegas moving on in the 2019 US Open Cup after getting the win by a score of 2-0.
Eric Wynalda helped Cal FC to have a historic run in this competition back in 2012. Seven years later, destiny had them in his way if he wanted to start another historic run with his new team where he wants to replicate that success.
Lights FC was able to open the score with Edwin Rivas serving a cross into the box, where Sammy Ochoa knocked it in with a header in the 13th minute of play. Both teams had a total of six shots in the first half and split the possession of the ball 50/50 in what was a very intense matchup early on.
Wynalda used two of his substitutions at halftime, bringing in offensive weapons onto the pitch in Junior Sandoval and Pablo Cruz, the former a veteran of that historic Cal FC side in 2012.
'Lito' Cruz immediately made an impact, first with a free kick that required goalkeeper Kevin Marquez to have a highlight reel save to avoid the goal. Less than a minute later Cruz had a great run on the left side receiving a magnificent pass from Christian Torres that left 'Lito' on the end line, from there he found a streaking Victor Rojas who put the ball in the back of the net. Las Vegas extended their lead to 2-0 with this goal in the 50th minute.
"It was a surreal feeling playing against Cal FC," said Lights FC midfielder Pablo Cruz. "They played a great game, I was very impressed with the players that they have. It felt great playing against some of my friends. Overall, I feel like we ended up getting the win but all the props to them as well.
Despite having the lead, Las Vegas kept pushing the pace and was the team that created more opportunities. In the second half Lights FC was closer to extending their lead than Cal FC scoring for the first time in this match.
"We are pleased for a couple of reasons", said Lights FC manager Eric Wynalda after the win. "First and foremost, we're healthy. That's a good win and a shutout, it gives confidence to our goalkeeper, our back line that had to shuffle around all game. They played multiple positions, multiple systems and they still were able to figure out how to get a zero, so I'm proud of them".
With the win, Las Vegas advanced to the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, where they'll play at Cashman Field on Wednesday, May 29 at 7:30 p.m. against the winner of the second round match between Orange County SC (USL Championship) and Orange County FC (NPSL).
"It's a great opportunity to always host, we love playing at home and everybody knows that," stated Wynalda. "Either way I get to play against a friend in Paul Caligiuri (Orange County FC head coach) or Braeden Cloutier (Orange County SC head coach), so both of those teams will give us a fair test, so we will see who comes out of it. We love playing at home and love the fact that we've given this club another opportunity to move forward in the competition that I love so much".
Victor Rojas got his first start with Lights FC, taking advantage of the opportunity by scoring his first goal with Las Vegas.
Las Vegas will return to league play when they visit the defending Western Conference champions Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Their next home match is on Saturday, May 25 as Las Vegas will face Tulsa Roughnecks FC in Paws on the Pitch night at Cashman Field. Fans are encouraged to bring their furry friends, who will be able to enjoy the match alongside their human from the grass berms. Dogs won't have to pay for their ticket, only their owners will.