During a summer stretch where Las Vegas Lights FC is taking its act on the road for the bulk of its matches, opportunities like the one at hand Saturday night hold special significance.
That's when Lights FC (4-6-5, 17 points) will welcome Saint Louis FC (5-5-7, 22 points) to Cashman Field for an 8 p.m. USL Western Conference Showdown.
The match, which features two clubs jockeying for points and position in the chase for a playoff spot, is the centerpiece of Salute to Service night in Downtown Las Vegas, featuring several tributes to our veterans, current military and first responders.
It will also be the only time Las Vegas soccer fans get to see the club on its home pitch in July.
"With these home games, we have a big responsibility, because these are the games that our fans are going to enjoy the most," Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez said. "We have a double responsibility. What I'm looking for is getting three points, and for the fans to be happy when they leave Cashman Field. It's very important to them that we win, it's important to them how we perform."
Saturday's match comes on the heels of Lights FC earning a point on the road last weekend, via a 2-2 draw at Tulsa Roughnecks FC. Returning home, the club is eyeing its third straight win in its home confines.
In June, Lights FC went 2-0 at Cashman Field, scoring a pair of 4-1 victories over Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (June 2) and then Seattle Sounders 2 (June 16). Those two wins were the cornerstones of the club's highest-scoring month to date, as it tallied 12 goals in five matches.
Now, before hitting the road for four straight matches, Lights FC welcomes in a team in a similar situation to its own - needing points to help climb back into the Top 8 of the Western Conference standings at the midway point of the season.
"We know that after this, we have some very long trips coming up, so the focus is there," midfielder Alex Mendoza said. "There's always a sense of urgency, so of course we're going into Saturday extremely focused on what we need to do."
Sánchez said he expects a disciplined team coming into Cashman Field, which will be compact defensively.
On his own side, following a match in Tulsa where he felt the team left two points on the table, the focus in training this week has been simplified.
"This week, we have been returning to the basic things - Fighting for every ball, the 1 vs. 1 challenges - That must be our essence as a team," Sánchez said. "Every player has an individual opportunity right now, and that has been the focus this week."
And those individuals will be competing for their spots and opportunities for Saturday night all the way up until Saturday.
Typically, before Saturday home matches, the Starting XI has been chosen the day before matches, and that group spends Friday's training session installing final game plan preparations. This week, Friday evening's 7 p.m. open-to-the-public practice at Kellogg-Zaher Soccer Complex will feature the home stretch of competition for the right to take the pitch 24 hours later.
"We will wait to see the whole performance, Monday through Friday," Sánchez said. "We will choose the best 11, put them in the pitch and set it all up in a way where we can compete very well."
Lights FC supporters celebrate following a goal scored by the home club in a 4-1 victory over Seattle Sounders 2 at Cashman Field on Saturday, June 16, 2018. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
LIGHTS FC NOTES HEADING INTO SATURDAY NIGHT:
MENDIOLA EARNS PRAISE: Playing up top at forward for the first time in his four matches with Lights FC, attacking midfielder Raul Mendiola made a big impression with the coaching staff following last week's 2-2 draw in Tulsa.
After the team fell behind in the opening minutes, it was Mendiola who took a feed from Christian Torres late in the first half, spun towards the goal, faked a defender out of his shoes and scored his first goal of 2018. The play drew praise from the USL as one of the top Skills of the Week, and Sánchez labeled Mendiola as a true bright spot for the club in the match.
REINFORCEMENTS ARRIVE NEXT WEEK: Saturday will likely be the final match that Lights FC plays without three key midseason signees, who are all expected to take the pitch next week following the July 10 opening of the U.S. Soccer Federation's summer transfer window.
LigaMX veteran Rodrigo Iñigo is expected to bring size and athleticism to the club's already sturdy back line, which has had to deal with a handful of injuries of late. Meanwhile, a pair of strikers will give Lights FC more pop up front. That will come in the form of Daniel Guzman Jr. - the son of former LigaMX and Mexican National Team standout Daniel Guzman - and Omar Salgado - a former No. 1 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft.
ROSTER UPDATE: This week, the club and midfielder Zach Mathers mutually parted ways. Mathers made five appearances for Lights FC in 2018.
INJURY UPDATES: Out for Saturday's match, while recovering from lower body injuries, are forward Juan Carlos Garcia and midfielder Matt Thomas. Officially questionable are a handful of Lights FC players all dealing with various lower body injuries - defenders Joel Huiqui, Christian Torres and Miguel Garduño, plus midfielder Juan Jose Calderon.
DISCIPLINE UPDATES: Lights FC will be without starting defender Marco Cesar Jaime Jr. Saturday night, as he serves a 1-match suspension for yellow card accumulation after earning his fifth of the season last Saturday night. Entering Saturday's match one yellow card away from earning a 1-game accumulation suspension is defender Miguel Garduño. The same had gone for midfielder Carlos Alvarez, though he had one of his four accumulated yellow cards removed for meeting league good behavior qualifications.
Lights FC midfielder Daigo Kobayashi. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
WHO TO KNOW FOR LIGHTS FC
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 tied as the team's top creator and finisher to this point in 2018.
Midfielder Daigo Kobayashi (#44) had a big road swing for Lights FC, scoring in each of the club's last two matches. His score last Saturday in Tulsa was the club's first successful penalty kick attempt of the 2018 regular season, and tied him for the team lead with four goals on the year.
Midfielder Raul Mendiola (#40) has shown his prowess as both a creator and a scorer so far in his first four matches with Lights FC as a midseason signee. The former LA Galaxy fixture scored his first goal of the season last Saturday night, and has proven to be an aggressive, speedy force within the attack.
Midfielder James Murphy (#19) impressed in his first two appearances with the club after joining on loan from Major League Soccer's LAFC. The 20-year-old is a creative midfielder who likes taking chances. His first attempt at doing so resulted in an assist on a Sammy Ochoa goal on June 24 at Swope Park Rangers in his Lights FC debut.
Defender Marcelo Alatorre (#16) has continued to be an anchor on Lights FC's back line while the unit has dealt with injuries over the last several matches and had to change up personnel. The LigaMX veteran has been a valuable leader both on and off of the pitch all season.
Goalkeeper Ricardo Ferriño (#1) returned to his starting post after two matches away last Saturday night, and helped preserve the road result with some big second half plays. His 44 goalkeeper saves are tied for the 8th most in the 33-team USL this season.
HERE IS EVERYTHING ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW AHEAD OF SATURDAY'S MATCH VS. SAINT LOUIS FC:
- Saturday’s match kicks off at 8 p.m. For on-site ticket purchase at Cashman Field, the box office will open at 12 p.m., and Will Call opens at 4:30 p.m.
- The expanded Zappos Tailgate Party, featuring Lights FC's own "Cash the Soccer Rocker," music, a variety of food trucks and beer selections, merchandise for sale, plus tailgate games for both kids and adults begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Cashman parking lot. Merchandise available for Salute to Service night includes a pair of match-specific scarves (pictured above), available for just $20 each both at the Zappos Tailgate and inside the stadium.
- Gates to the stadium for general public entry open at 7 p.m., with three available entrances at Cashman Field: The Main Gate, the Zappos Gate and the Stadium Corner Gate.
WHERE TO WATCH AND LISTEN