Lights FC forward Sammy Ochoa (back) celebrates with teammate Daigo Kobayashi following his second goal in the club's 4-2 victory over FC Tucson. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
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Las Vegas Lights FC came into its first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match in club history with two missions in mind - Advance in the Open Cup bracket, and also build some positive momentum for a key upcoming stretch of USL regular season play.
Mission accomplished ... and mission accomplished.
Lights FC used offensive surges both early and late to push past USL Premier Development League side FC Tucson, 4-2, Wednesday night in front of a strong crowd at UNLV's Peter Johann Soccer Field.
Now, the club advances to the third round, where it will travel to face another PDL squad - FC Golden State Force - next Wednesday night, after they upset USL's Orange County SC earlier Wednesday evening. The winner of that match (more details to come soon at LightsFC.com) will advance to the fourth round, where Major League Soccer clubs enter the tournament.
"This is something positive, because we've been doing well and not getting the results we wanted," Lights FC midfielder Carlos Alvarez said. "Now, we got the result, we have to build from it and keep them coming."
Before its next U.S. Open Cup match, Lights FC (2-2-4, 10 points in USL play) will first have a huge USL hurdle to clear on Saturday night. That's when first place Real Monarchs SLC (7-1-1, 22 points) storms into Cashman Field for an 8 p.m. kickoff. Tickets for Saturday night are available starting at just $15 at LightsFC.com/SingleTix, and that match will both air locally on myLVTV and stream nationwide on the ESPN+ app.
However, the Lights FC offensive attack couldn't possibly ask for a better momentum boost leading into Saturday's crucial regular season showdown.
As the sun set on the UNLV campus on Wednesday evening in the opening minutes of action, the Lights FC attack came out truly on fire.
Controlling possession right from the opening touch, Lights FC broke through first in just the fifth minute, as a Matt Thomas centering pass found Alvarez - the club's leading goal scorer on the season. He blasted one through to put Lights FC up 1-0 before either team could break a sweat.
Then, just four minutes later, Alvarez spread the love, with Marcelo Alatorre scoring his first goal in a Lights FC uniform. He banged home a header straight from an Alvarez corner kick.
But the momentum wore a bit, and eventually, the USL PDL visitors were able to strike back.
The speed of striker Jason Romero helped produce both goals. First, in the 39th minute, he did the scoring himself up front, then just three minutes into the second half, he fired a cross for AJ Valenzuela who did the same, to raise tensions momentarily.
Then, the perfect timing struck.
Ending his frustrating scoring drought - in a big way, too - was forward Sammy Ochoa. He first broke through in the 56th minute, when Alatorre flipped in a great ball from outside the box, which Ochoa headed in with force. A mass celebration of Lights FC players ensued, as the entire team felt Ochoa's relief after he saw one find the back of the net following several recent near misses.
"It felt good," Ochoa said afterwards. "I've been doing the right things every game. This time, I got the ball in the right spot and scored. Hopefully from here on out, I just keep scoring."
Ochoa, who has said for weeks that he only needed one goal to get an offensive run going, wasn't lying. He scored his second just five minutes later, this time with his boot after being set up nicely by Daigo Kobayashi.
"We've been practicing making runs in the box," Ochoa said, rehashing the scoring plays. "The first one, I ran to the post and flicked it, the second one, I went back post and it was there. It's being in the right place at the right time."
This time with the lead, the attack didn't let up, and Lights FC nearly added a couple more for good measure. That included an odd highlight late, as goalkeeper - yes, goalkeeper - Ricardo Ferriño came all the way to the other end to take a free kick in the 90th minute just outside the box. His shot, which would have sent the nearby Supporters Section into a frenzy, rang hard off the crossbar.
Still, before turning the focus to next week's big road trip to California, Lights FC got just what it wanted in terms of an adrenaline shot before getting a second crack at Real Monarchs.
Lights FC battled with them in their first meeting to a 0-0 draw on April 30 in Utah - A match in which Lights FC had to play 10-on-11 for nearly 80 minutes, and still almost squeaked away with three points on the table.
"It was just the positive vibe, getting those four goals," Alvarez said. "We're going into Saturday now with a positive mindset and a great energy. Hopefully we can get another win."