With a commanding offensive performance in a 4-1 victory over Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in its last time out, Las Vegas Lights FC earned a result that could potentially shift the momentum of its inaugural USL season.
Now, the goal is clear: Build upon its statement victory from June 2.
After a week away from match action, Lights FC (3-4-4, 13 points) returns to action Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. on the road with the first of three 2018 meetings with Phoenix Rising FC (7-3-4, 25 points), who currently sits in third place in the USL Western Conference.
It also kicks off a crucial 2-match week for Lights FC, who is back at Cashman Field Saturday night at 8 p.m. against Seattle Sounders 2 (3-7-2, 11 points), with tickets available and starting at just $15 at LightsFC.com.
"We began with a good win, we have some new players, we've recovered our concepts and there are some important games coming ahead," Lights FC Technical Director Chelís said. "We will continue to make mistakes, but we will not be the same. Phoenix is a good team and rival to face to see where we are going."
The addition of some new blood to the roster has in fact helped bolster Lights FC, both in match play and on the training pitch.
Making their debuts as second half subs in the Colorado Springs victory were midfielders Zach Mathers and Raul Mendiola. Both ended up recording assists during a 3-goal offensive charge in that second stanza. Strong, as well, through his first two appearances in USL play for Lights FC is MLS veteran Eric Avila, who has added some electricity down the right sideline for the club.
Also with the club training each day - though not eligible to play until after the July 10 opening of the U.S. Soccer Federation's Summer Transfer Window - are defender Rodrigo Iñigo and striker Daniel Guzmán Jr. This week, the club also added another tall defender, as 6-foot-2 Nico Samayoa came to Las Vegas on loan from MLS club New England Revolution, and is available to play beginning Wednesday in Phoenix.
"When all the guys came in, when I came in, guys (who were here) had to either try to fight back for their spot or maintain their spot," Mathers said. "Bringing in new guys always makes everybody work harder. I think our practices have shown that. The energy has been really high, and everyone really wants to get back into a playoff spot."
Earning points in match-ups with clubs such as Phoenix Rising FC certainly wouldn't hurt in that chase to climb back into the Western Conference's Top 8.
Powered by an aggressive offensive attack - much like the one Lights FC is striving to deliver consistently - Phoenix has lived up to its billing as one of the top clubs in the Western Conference entering the season. Entering Wednesday's action, Phoenix leads the 33-team league in goals scored (26) and ranks second in total shots (220). Leading the way individually for the club to this point are Chris Cortez (6 goals) and Solomon Asante (5).
Legendary striker Didier Drogba has four goals this season for Phoenix, but will miss Wednesday's match while working as a commentator for BBC in Russia during the 2018 World Cup, which begins Thursday.
"They have a very nice, quick attack," Chelís added. "At the same time, they give a lot of opportunities in the back. So we are figuring this out, how to take out these characteristics, then we'll take advantage. It will be a very entertaining, very dynamic game. The team that is more accurate in their opportunities is going to win."
Lights FC forward Sammy Ochoa drives the ball towards the goal during a 4-1 victory over Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on June 2, 2018. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
LIGHTS FC NOTES HEADING INTO WEDNESDAY NIGHT:
SAMAYOA READY TO GO: After months of training with MLS club New England Revolution as a fourth round pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, defender Nico Samayoa arrives this week in Las Vegas on loan ready to make a quick impact.
"I'm just happy and motivated to come help a team that's doing well and doing different things," Samayoa said. "What I bring is positive energy, hard work, I think I'm a player who likes to do things right from the start. I bring discipline and work ethic."
Samayoa joins a back line that has been a strong suit from the start of USL play, despite missing key defender Miguel Garduño the last two games due to injury.
A SUDDEN CHANGE AT THE HELM FOR PHOENIX: After a calendar year of leading Phoenix Rising FC on the sidelines, Head Coach Patrice Carteron is moving on ahead of Wednesday's meeting with Lights FC.
Carteron led the club to 20 wins in his time at the helm, along with a 2017 USL playoff berth. However, the club announced on Tuesday that he is leaving effective immediately to take over the same position with Al Ahly SC of the Egyptian Premier League. In his place, Rick Schantz will serve as the club's interim Head Coach.
INJURY UPDATES: Forward Juan Carlos Garcia will miss Wednesday's match, as he continues to recover from a lower body injury. Lights FC has three players officially questionable entering Wednesday night, all dealing with lower body injuries - midfielder Juan Jose Calderon, defender Miguel Garduño and midfielder Raul Mendiola.
DISCIPLINE UPDATES: Lights FC has three players who have four yellow cards on the season, meaning each is one yellow away from earning a 1-game accumulation suspension. Those three are Carlos Alvarez, goalkeeper Ricardo Ferriño and Miguel Garduño.
Lights FC goalkeeper Ricardo Ferriño drives a goal kick at Cashman Field during a victory over Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on June 2, 2018. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
WHO TO KNOW FOR LIGHTS FC
Defender Joel Huiqui (#3) has been one of Lights FC's premier defenders this season, and also a true leader, earning his captaincy. With the potential of his fellow center-back Garduño missing the match due to injury, Huiqui's leadership could be more important than ever Wednesday night. The Mexican National Team and LigaMX veteran is currently second on the team with 52 defensive clearances this season.
Midfielder Carlos Alvarez (#7) continues to do it all in the middle of the field, leading the offensive attack for Lights FC. With four goals and three assists to his credit in USL play, he's been the team's top creator and finisher to this point in 2018. He's looked even more dangerous in recent matches, as the midfield and attack has gotten healthier and continued to gel.
Goalkeeper Ricardo Ferriño (#1) continues to steady his overall play in goal, balancing skill with calculated aggression when charging from the box to make plays and stymie offensive chances. His 34 goalkeeper saves are currently the sixth-highest total in the 33-team USL.