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Last Saturday morning, Lights FC defender and team captain Joel Huiqui approached the club’s coaching staff with a rare request.
He asked Technical Director Chelís and Head Coach Isidro Sánchez for permission to make the speech to the team before it took the pitch at Cashman Field for a must-win match vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.
“He just asked ‘Can I talk?’” Chelís said. “The idea is that when the players speak, the players listen. The language is different than it is from coach-to-player. Player-to-player, it’s the same language.
“I said ‘Yes, you can have the last word.’”
Be it in a game or on the training pitch, Huiqui is the classic lead-by-example cornerstone for the club. So when the LigaMX and Mexican National Team veteran speaks, it holds added value.
That was the case Saturday, as the team then went out and put on its best start-to-finish performance of the season in a 4-1 victory. The passionate, deep context of Huiqui's message came just a week after the club suffered a shocking 7-2 loss on the road at LA Galaxy II.
“The point of his message was a story of his playing career, and how things are when situations are like this - He tells a story of how we should always be together, stronger as a family, because you just never know what will happen the next day,” midfielder Eric Avila recalled. “The pregame speech was something very personal and it started becoming a more family-type locker room. You could feel it. Everyone respected his story, everyone loved it and was tuned in.”
The Huiqui speech wasn’t the only first in terms of different pregame preparations for the team Saturday night.
When the players began arriving to Cashman Field about two hours before the match started, they entered the home locker room to see a new feature set up in the front of the room – a table with DJ equipment.
DJ Ocho, who has been an in-stadium presence for the club all season, was invited to help set the early tone for the club. It was a change-of-pace move from either one player controlling the pregame music, or players isolating themselves with their headphones.
“This was Isidro’s idea,” Chelís said. “He said that in all of the locker rooms in his life, it’s always difficult if just one guy picks the music. The DJ knows the music all of the people like.”
Added midfielder Carlos Alvarez: “The DJ helped a lot. At the end of the day, we were already focused and ready to roll. It was time for business. You saw what we did this weekend. The first matches (of the season), that’s what we were doing, and then we let it go. We got back to that.”
The result was an offensive attack that was unrelenting from start to finish. Lights FC never let its foot off of the gas, and that approach ultimately paid off, as three second half goals helped break the levee, delivering the first 4-goal match of the USL season for the team. Also, Freddy Adu and Sammy Ochoa started together at forward and were both able to break through with their respective first goals of the season.
There were plenty more positives to take from a match that ultimately delivered a crucial three points in the USL's Western Conference standings, keeping Lights FC in the thick of the playoff push as the season’s midway point approaches.
Not planning to change what works, Chelís added that the pregame DJ Ocho appearance in the locker room will become a staple moving forward, as the club has 10 home matches remaining.
Everything Saturday night – both before and during the match – combined to give the club just the kick it needed at just the right time.
“The DJ coming in was something different, we laughed it out for a little bit and had the music playing,” Avila said. “We all responded (to the speech) as a unit and looked each other in the eyes, saying ‘Yeah, we do need to start changing things.’”
Lights FC captain Joel Huiqui (left) and his teammates celebrate a 4-1 victory over Colorado Switchbacks FC at Cashman Field on Saturday, June 2, 2018. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)