Lights FC forward Sammy Ochoa fires a shot against Real Monarchs SLC in a 2-0 loss at Cashman Field on Saturday, May 19, 2018. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
***** Leer en español aquí *****
Las Vegas Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez said earlier in the week that the key against first place Real Monarchs SLC would be avoiding mistakes - That the visitors could take advantage of the smallest open window with their precision.
Monarchs did just that in the first half, scoring two goals on breakaway opportunities, which turned out to be all the offense they need, defeating Lights FC, 2-0, in front of 6,810 fans at Cashman Field.
"Today was a big effort of the team - We know that we did what we had to do," Lights FC defender Miguel Garduño said. "I won't sleep all night thinking about the game, thinking about every play, thinking about when we almost scored.
"We have to keep working. But the sensation right now is frustration, it's that we gave everything in the field. If you saw the game, you know we had the ball, we tried, we were there."
The full story behind that frustration was best told with the first half of action as a whole.
Monarchs (8-1-1, 25 points) didn't wait long to get started, taking advantage of an opportunity in just the third minute. That was when Sebástian Velásquez struck, after having several frustrating moments of his own in the two teams' first meeting - a 0-0 draw on April 30 in Utah.
A similar opportunity in the 22nd minute saw Josh Heard score his first goal of the season in a one-on-one opportunity against Lights FC goalkeeper Ricardo Ferriño.
Lights FC (2-3-4, 10 points) was able to maintain possession for the better part of the first 45 minutes, and even produced several clean looks, but with those came several frustrating near-misses. In the first half alone, Lights FC controlled possession for 61.4% of the clock, and out-shot Real Monarchs 17-5.
The toughest of those missed chances to swallow came in the 35th minute. That was when Sammy Ochoa started things with a great ball down the right side to Zak Drake. From there, Drake centered to Carlos Alvarez, who had a nifty flick backwards to Matt Thomas. Finally, Thomas fired a strike from straight away, but it sailed just high into the Supporters Section behind the target.
That attack, in essence, told the story of the game for Lights FC, who remains in the middle of the USL's Western Conference pack with the result, while Real Monarchs SLC solidified its hold on first place.
Though the second half possession wasn't nearly as one-sided, Lights FC still controlled 59.7% of the possession in the game, and ended up out-shooting Real Monarchs SLC 26-8.
With no goals to show for it.
"This is a game where we controlled more than 50% of the game," Sánchez said. "'Mental' was the thing on Wednesday. We needed to score 11 goals (in the U.S. Open Cup win against FC Tucson) and we scored four. That was mental. Today is life."
A repeated offensive aggression and effort like the one displayed in Saturday's loss will serve Lights FC well in the busy week that lies ahead.
The team hits the road Tuesday for two matches in Southern California. First comes Wednesday night's 7 p.m. U.S. Open Cup third round showdown with USL Premier Development League side FC Golden State Force, with the winner drawing a likely matchup with a Major League Soccer opponent in June 6th's fifth round.
Then, the team continues USL play again, facing LA Galaxy II (1-6-3, 6 points) on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., with that match streaming live on the new ESPN+ app.
Heading into a 2-game road trip off of a loss is never easier, but the effort put forth by the club Saturday night will make the preparation and travel south a bit more bearable.
"Me, as a leader today, that's what I'm looking for," Sánchez added. "Being a little selfish, I want the group to be honest with their efforts. Today, they were honest.
"Especially today, all of my players and the coaching staff, we can turn off the lights tonight in our rooms, get in the bed, pray and know we were fair."