This match will give the Villarreal brothers, Lights FC forward Jose and Sacramento midfielder Jaime, their first opportunity to face off in the professional level.
Sacramento, CA – After facing the Fresno FC Foxes on Saturday, Lights FC continues their Northern California road trip by traveling to the capital of the state to take on the Sacramento Republic FC under the national spotlight, with the game being broadcast live on ESPNews with it being the USL Game of the Week.
"Anytime we're talking about Simon Elliott's team, we're talking about a very organized squad and they have a lot of bite," said Lights FC manager Eric Wynalda. "They’re a versatile team that can get you on the counter or with possession play. They're hard to figure out. It's a pivotal game for us and we're going to have to be at our best."
While suspensions and injuries have forced changes in Lights FC's Starting XI, only 3 players are unavailable for this matchup. Mobi Fehr has been the only consistent starter throughout the season. "It has been difficult to manage at times, but in this particular case, we have almost everybody healthy," stated Wynalda. "We feel that we’ll be able to field a really good side against Sacramento. We will make alterations again in the lineup, but there won’t be much of a shock factor with guys playing in a position for the 1st time."
Las Vegas won the first matchup this season between both teams by a final score of 4-2. The four Las Vegas goal scorers in the game are part of the traveling roster for this Wednesday’s match: Irvin Parra, Gabe Robinson, Santiago Echavarria, and Junior Sandoval.
Two of the players who were used off the bench for Las Vegas at Fresno were key to keeping it a tight game. Vinnie Vermeer was a halftime substitute for the Lights, impressing Lights FC manager Eric Wynalda. "He came in with unique circumstances when we’re down a man and he held our midfield together,'' said Wynalda. "Even at that, with only 10 men, the scoreline in that half was one - one".
Meanwhile, the player who put the ball in the back of the net for Vegas at Chukchansi Park was Pablo Cruz, who had come onto the pitch just 5 minutes before scoring his first goal with the team. "Throughout the season, he (Cruz) has put other players in great positions to score goals," Wynalda said. "He has had his fair share of assists and he was a guy that really deserved to score. You could see that his game is getting better, his reaction to coming off the bench was great because he gave us a spark and got us a goal".
Sacramento halted a three-game winless streak by defeating San Antonio FC on the road 3-2 with a brace from Stefano Beromo and Cameron Iwasa's tenth score of the year. The victory raised them to seventh place with 30 points.
Second-year head coach Simon Elliott led Sacramento to a 20-win regular season in 2018, before losing in the USL Western Conference Quarterfinals to Swope Park. Republic FC's top scorer is Cameron Iwasa with ten goals.
Josh Cohen was Sacramento's undisputed starting goalkeeper in 2018 and the first half of the 2019 season, but he was transferred to Maccabi Haifa of the Israeli Premier League on July 19. Since then, Rafael Diaz from the Dominican Republic has started in goal for the Republic in their last four matches, conceding six goals and having a clean sheet against Orange County SC.
Junior Sandoval scored his first goal as a member of Lights FC against Sacramento Republic FC on May 4. His shot from outside the box was voted the USL Goal of the Week for week 9 of the season.
Pablo Cruz is the only position player to have seen action in every one of the 23 official Lights FC matches in 2019, including USL Championship and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup action.
He leads the team with a total of 42 chances created, but had been itching to find the back of the net and that finally happened on August 3, 2019, against Fresno FC. Coming in as a substitute against the Foxes in the 75th minute, Cruz scored his first goal with Las Vegas off of a long corner kick from Gabe Robinson.
Irvin Raul Parra and Jose Villarreal weren't just born in the same city (Inglewood, California), but also in the same hospital and only three weeks apart. They were childhood friends, grew up together playing on the same fields and made their professional debut the same year (2012).
Since Villarreal's signing with Las Vegas two months ago, they had been on the field together only 126 minutes ahead of Saturday's victory against RGV FC. That match marked the third time with both being in Lights FC's Starting XI and they connected for the game-winning goal, with Villarreal serving a pinpoint-accurate cross to Parra who with a diving header gave the team the definitive 2-1 lead.
While Jose Villarreal and Irvin Parra have a very tight bond like if they were brothers, Villarreal will have his actual brother across the field on Wednesday night.
Jose Villarreal's younger brother Jaime is a midfielder with Sacramento Republic. Both were signed to Homegrown Player contracts with L.A. Galaxy, with Jose making his MLS debut in 2012 and Jaime in 2017
This will be the first time they face off in the professional level, after sharing the field in a total of 32 matches in a four-year span between 2014 and 2017 within the Los Angeles Galaxy system: 26 USL regular-season games, 2 USL Cup Playoffs matches, and 4 MLS regular-season games.
With his diving header game-winning goal against RGV FC, Parra reached 10 goals in the 2019 season, becoming the second Lights FC player with double-digit goals in a single season while being the fastest one to do so in only 18 games. He is now tied with Sammy Ochoa and Raul Mendiola as the leading scorers in franchise history with 10 each.
Irvin Raul Parra currently leads Las Vegas not only in goals (10) but also in assists with four. With his next goal or assist, he'll tie Sammy Ochoa's combined goals + assists from 2018, which led the team in its inaugural season.
His ten goals have the Inglewood native ranked fifth-best in USL Championship's Western Conference, he's one of only ten players in the league (seven from the Western Conference) to reach double-digit scoring so far this season.
Dutch midfielder Vinnie Vermeer made his debut with Lights FC against Fresno FC Foxes. Vermeer was originally loaned out by Nashville SC on July 2 but was recalled by the Tennessee team just a week later.
The Netherlands native returned to Las Vegas on August 1 and was included in the gameday roster for the match at Fresno just two days later. After coming in as a halftime substitution, Vermeer led Lights FC with a passing accuracy of 94.4%.
Mobi Fehr - OUT - Lower Body Injury
Bryan de la Fuente - OUT - Lower Body Injury
Jonathan Levin - OUT - Suspension
Irvin Raul Parra leads Lights FC with 10 goals and 4 assists. He is currently tied with Sammy Ochoa and Raul Mendiola as the top scorer in franchise history.
Las Vegas Lights FC fans will be able to follow-up along with every match of the 2019 USL Championship season via national & local media outlets.
Wednesday's game (8:00 p.m. kickoff) is USL Championship's Game of the Week, which will be aired nationwide on ESPNews with broadcasters Michael Watts and Devon Kerr announcing the action.