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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – To begin a mid-summer stretch that sees Las Vegas Lights FC play 8 of 10 matches on the road, the club almost started things off with a dramatic-yet-positive result.
However, a last-second penalty kick attempt rang off the right post, resulting in Lights FC dropping a 3-2 decision to Swope Park Rangers at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan., on Sunday afternoon.
The wild finish first saw Lights FC score in the 87th minute to pull to within a goal, then pull out all of the stops to create late scoring chances in an attempt to secure at least one point on the USL Western Conference table in a crucial road match-up.
Ultimately, Lights FC headed home empty-handed, though encouraged.
"As a coach, my biggest objective is to have 11 players on a team who represent what I am - I think I am a disciplined person who puts forth a lot of effort and never gives up - Today, in my team, I saw exactly the same," Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez said. "They stuck to the game plan, were very disciplined and never gave up.
"I was proud of the effort. In these long tournaments, it gives you an opportunity to take good things from the losses. Now we have a lot to do, because there is a lot to extract from this game.”
Facing a club who was playing five members from its MLS side roster (Sporting Kansas City), who played on the same pitch less than 24 hours earlier, Lights FC (4-6-4, 16 points) held its own in a challenging, chess-like first half.
Swope Park Rangers (8-4-4, 28 points), as it did in the first meeting between the two clubs, got on the board first, with Seth Sinovic getting one by Lights FC keeper Angel Alvarez off of a feed from Chase Minter in the 12th minute.
But also as it did in the first match, Lights FC was able to equalize. In the 21st minute, the attack executed one of its smoothest scoring plays of the season. Sammy Ochoa took an incoming ball from about 40 yards out and headed it perfectly to the right side of the attack. It found Daigo Kobayashi, whose sweeping strike got past Swope Park's Christian Herrera and banged in off of the left post.
Despite Swope Park holding the majority of possession in the first half, Lights FC came on late in the opening stanza after equalizing the score, developing a couple of solid scoring chances. The closest came in the 43rd minute, when Zach Mathers chipped one in towards the target right over Herrera, but a Swope Park defender flew in just in time to clear the ball from the box.
In the second half, Swope Park was able to flex more muscle.
In the 56th minute, Kharlton Belmar put Rangers back on top by finish off a centered ball from Colton Storm for his league-leading ninth goal of the season. Then, in the 68th minute, Wan Kuzain found the upper-right corner of the goal box past a diving Alvarez off of a free kick.
Things really heated up in the closing stretch, as Lights FC found an open seam to expose in the 87th minute. That was when James Murphy, who just joined the club this week on loan from LAFC (MLS), sent a ball from midfield down and ahead of forward Sammy Ochoa. From there, Ochoa was able to streak towards the goal and get one by Herrera - His team-high fourth goal of June.
Swope Park ended up on its heels for the final few minutes, with four minutes of added time tacked onto the full 90.
The most golden of those opportunities came just before the final gun, after Herrera charged out to challenge Raul Mendiola in the box and ended up committing a foul, setting up a Lights FC penalty kick attempt.
On the attempt, midfielder Carlos Alvarez - wearing the captain's armband Sunday in place of the suspended Joel Huiqui - flipped the ball to his right, where a charging Ochoa fired a rocket on target, only to see it bang off of the right post before putting his hands on top of his head in disbelief.
"That's a play we've been looking for, practicing since the first week (in January)," Sánchez said. "This is a risky play, and most teams who do it, do it when they are winning 4-0 or 5-0. For me, that's just bullying or taking advantage of the opponent. You have to practice it and have courage to make it in these kinds of moments. It showed that this team is brave."
That type of mettle will be needed as the team continues to test its road legs in the coming weeks, starting next Saturday, when it looks to avenge a home loss from earlier in the season to Tulsa Roughnecks FC. That match, which kicks off at 5:30 p.m. PT, will air locally on myLVTV and stream nationwide on ESPN+.
The following Saturday, Lights FC returns home for Salute to Service Night at Cashman Field on July 7 at 8 p.m. - The club's lone home match of July. Tickets are currently available, starting at just $15 at LightsFC.com.
Lights FC's Juan Herrera-Perla (left) works for possession during first half action in a 3-2 loss at Swope Park Rangers on Sunday, June 24, 2018 in Kansas City, Kan. (CREDIT: Swope Park Rangers)