Lights FC's James Murphy (left) and Raul Mendiola celebrate Mendiola's goal in a 1-0 victory over Saint Louis FC at Cashman Field on Saturday, July 7, 2018. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
WHERE TO WATCH AND LISTEN TO LIGHTS FC AT OKC ENERGY FC:
- Wednesday's match will nationally on ESPNews. It will be available, as well, on the ESPN app with a cable subscriber login.
It has all of the potential to be the perfect storm, of sorts.
Las Vegas Lights FC begins a four-match road stretch that runs through the end of July on Wednesday night in the USL "Game of the Week" - a nationally televised 5 p.m. PT showdown on ESPNews with OKC Energy FC. Wednesday's match will not stream on ESPN+, but is available on the ESPN app with a valid cable subscriber login.
Going along on the trip to Oklahoma City with the club is a wave of momentum stemming from three straight home wins at Cashman Field - most recently a 1-0 shutout of Saint Louis FC last Saturday night.
Also, there are some roster reinforcements expected on board by this weekend, thanks to the opening of the U.S. Soccer Federation's summer transfer window. Plus, there's the fact that on the USL Western Conference table, Lights FC is just a couple of points outside of the Top 8 as the push for a playoff berth moves up a level.
"The four games coming, there are 12 points that are very, very important for us," Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez said. "We need to prove ourselves, and the key word is consistency. Consistency in the good performance, consistency in everything. That's what I'm looking for."
Consistency through the end of July will also be measured by the results against teams currently sitting below Lights FC (5-6-5, 20 points) in those Western Conference standings. Three of the four teams the club will visit during the rest of this month are currently there, starting with Oklahoma City (5-10-3, 18 points).
Despite a rough start to the 2018 season, OKC Energy FC enters Wednesday's match on a 5-game, 4-week unbeaten streak (3-0-2).
But Sánchez believes that Saturday's home win at Cashman Field for his side was simply further proof that its internal focus in preparing for matches during the midseason stretch is paramount to getting the results he wants.
"Our strategy now has been working and focusing on ourselves, first of all - Even though we weren't so accurate against Saint Louis, just with the effort and the discipline on our side, we were able to compete," he said.
The team also has some revenge on its mind from its last set of back-to-back road matches - a heartbreaking 3-2 loss at Swope Park Rangers on June 24, followed by a 2-2 draw with Tulsa Roughnecks FC on June 30.
"The last two games on the road, we lost three points - We could have tied at Swope Park and won in Tulsa," midfielder Daigo Kobayashi said. "We need to control these games a little bit more, each individual player. If we get up 2-1 or 1-0, we need to control the game more and make sure we get those points. We have some confidence right now, and we believe we can get three points in each of these road games."
The club will stay on the road following Wednesday's match and head due south for Saturday's 5:30 p.m. match at Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (1-6-10, 13 points). Sánchez's club won't return to its home pitch until Rio Grande Valley makes the return trip to Las Vegas on Saturday, August 4, at 8 p.m.
Two road victories this week would put Lights FC right in the mix as a playoff threat with the season creeping past its midway point. The team currently sits five points outside of the No. 8 spot.
And opportunities such as the ones lying directly ahead will have to be capitalized upon.
"The four games coming, these are 12 points that are very, very important to us," Sánchez said. "We need to prove ourselves."
MEET THE NEW FACES: Once all paperwork processes, a trio of transfers are set to make a big impact on the pitch for Lights FC, with the U.S. Soccer Federation's summer transfer open for all clubs.
Up on top of the attack will be forwards Daniel Guzmán Jr. and Omar Salgado.
Guzmán, 26, is the son of long-time Liga MX player and coach - and Mexican National Team veteran - Daniel Guzmán. He transfers in from Suchitepéquez of Liga Nacional - Guatemala's first division. There, he scored 10 goals in 17 appearances last season.
Salgado, 24, had a decorated amateur career, including representing the U.S. Men's National Team at multiple levels. He signed with Liga MX giant Chivas at age 15, and in 2011 was the No. 1 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft by Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
On the back line, coming in is 32-year-old Rodrigo Iñigo, who is not only familiar with Lights FC's coaching staff, but has the size, skill and versatility to contribute either as a defender or a midfielder.
ROSTER UPDATES: This week, the club mutually parted ways with a pair of midfielders - Julian Portugal and Juan Jose Calderon.
Meanwhile, defender Nico Samayoa, who was named to USL's Team of the Week following a strong performance last Saturday night in the 1-0 victory over Saint Louis FC, was recalled from his loan by Major League Soccer's New England Revolution.
INJURY UPDATES: Out for Wednesday's match, while recovering from lower body injuries, are defender Miguel Garduño and midfielder Matt Thomas. Officially questionable are a trio of Lights FC players all dealing with various lower body injuries - defenders Joel Huiqui and Christian Torres, plus forward Juan Carlos Garcia.
Lights FC midfielder Daigo Kobayashi. (L.E. Baskow / 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) was big for Lights FC on its last road swing, scoring in each of the club's two away matches to close out June. His successful penalty kick finish in Tulsa on June 30 tied him for the team lead with four goals on the year.
Midfielder Raul Mendiola (#40) has quickly become a fan favorite following his first five matches with Lights FC as a midseason signee. The former LA Galaxy fixture scored his second goal of the season last Saturday night - the deciding score in a 1-0 home victory over Saint Louis FC - and has proven to be an aggressive, speedy force within the attack.
Midfielder James Murphy (#19) impressed in his first three 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 - Including anchoring a clean sheet performance by the unit last weekend. The LigaMX veteran has been a valuable leader both on and off of the pitch all season.
Goalkeeper Ricardo Ferriño (#1) recorded his second clean sheet of 2018 last Saturday night at Cashman Field. The aggressive "sweeper keeper" has 44 goalkeeper saves are tied for the 9th most in the 33-team USL this season.