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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – The first Hat Trick in Las Vegas Lights FC was memorable, but came on a night filled with "what ifs" in Oklahoma City, as the club dropped the first leg of a 4-match road swing, 6-4 to OKC Energy FC.
Raul Mendiola - A midseason signee who formerly played for Major League Soccer's LA Galaxy - now has five goals in the club's last three matches.
However, Lights FC (5-7-5, 20 points) couldn't dig its way completely back from a 3-goal second half deficit against an opponent now unbeaten in its last six matches. Overall, with 10 goals scored on 27 shots, it was one of the most entertaining matches the United Soccer League has seen so far in 2018.
"We conceded six goals, and it was the effort and courage of our players that let us stay in the game," Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez said. "We're always looking to win. Even though we were losing 4-1, I could still see a light at the end of the tunnel, I never thought it was over. We continued fighting, all 90 minutes, and we were in the game competing."
Sánchez added that due to his short bench available Wednesday night, while the team played hard and pressed late to mount a major comeback on a hot and humid night, it had some tough circumstances and limitations to overcome.
Still, in Lights FC's first national television appearance, the action was consistent from the opening kick, with both teams got started quick in a fast-paced first half of play.
It all began with Alex Dixon driving home a banger from straight on for the home club in the 12th minute. But Lights FC was able to answer just three minutes later, when Freddy Adu put forth a beautiful touch to Carlos Alvarez, who fired a laser from left of the box that found the back of the net for his team-leading fifth goal of 2018.
Both teams had several near-misses after the match was equalized, including several heartbreaking chances for Lights FC, as OKC keeper Bryan Byars made several spectacular saves.
Energy FC (6-10-3, 21 points) grabbed some major just before the half, with Atiba Harris doing the damage just before the break.
Then, things got wild.
Energy FC would score two goals in the first 12 minutes of the second half, though the second, from Francis Atuahene, came with a bit of controversy attached. After Lights FC keeper Ricardo Ferriño deflected the first shot attempt on the attack, Atuahene was able to corral the ball by it hitting off of his right forearm. Lights FC players and coaches argued their case, but the goal was allowed, giving Energy FC a 4-1 lead.
But Lights FC showed no quit in its collective DNA, and the team's hottest attacker of late led the charge back.
On a pair of crafty finishes, Mendiola struck in both the 65th and 70th minutes, pulling the club within a goal at 4-3.
Two late Energy FC goals would keep Lights FC from completing the comeback, but Mendiola used one more nifty finish from close range in added time after the 90th minute to round out the first individual 3-goal effort in the club's brief history.
"Mendiola is so aware and he picks up everything in his way," Sánchez said. "He steps on the pitch, and he picks up every opportunity there for him. That's a reflection of a player who always plays with necessity and desire."
As the club had to do last Saturday, when it took a strong 1-0 result at Cashman Field against fellow USL Western Conference playoff hopeful Saint Louis FC, Lights FC will have to again pick itself up off the mat and again show its resiliency in just 72 hours.
Saturday night presents another prime opportunity to gain three points on the Western Conference table in the first of two meetings over a 3-week stretch with Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (1-6-10, 13 points).
Saturday's match kicks off at 5:30 p.m., will air locally on myLVTV and streams nationwide on the ESPN+ app. Then, the team returns home for a week before heading out on its Pacific Northwest road swing to face Portland Timbers 2 (Sunday, July 22) and Seattle Sounders 2 (Thursday, July 26).
Lights FC's next home match comes on Saturday, August 4, against Rio Grande Valley at 8 p.m. at Cashman Field. Tickets are available, starting at just $15, at LightsFC.com.
Lights FCs Raul Mendiola pushes the pace during second half action in a 6-4 loss to OKC Energy FC on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. (Steven Christy / OKC Energy FC)
Lights FC's Carlos Alvarez (7) celebrates a first half goal during a 6-4 loss at OKC Energy FC on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)