The Las Vegas Lights FC coaching staff has carried a mantra with it all season - What happens on the pitch on Saturday is just a consequence of what happens in training Monday through Friday.
Now, as Lights FC hits the road for Saturday's huge 5:30 p.m. showdown with fellow USL Western Conference playoff hopeful Saint Louis FC, it can feel as prepared as ever, given a heightened level of competition day in and day out.
Entering last Saturday's 1-0 victory at Cashman Field over Rio Grande Valley FC - The club's fourth straight home win - Lights FC had an empty injury report for the first time in the 2018 season. With 23 healthy bodies practicing each day, it's led to stronger individual pushes for minutes on Match Day.
"Having a deep roster, it's important," Lights FC Technical Director Chelís said. "If you have competition like this daily in your training, it's going to make things easier. Everyone will want to keep their place, and the ones who are on the bench will want to get into the Starting XI. Having 22-24 available players is the best thing for us. It makes for a bigger job for the coaching staff, but that's what we're paid to do."
Saturday's match will air locally on myLVTV, and stream nationwide on ESPN+. While Lights FC is away, Carlos Alvarez, Cash the Soccer Rocker & Co. will host a free poolside watch party, starting at 5 p.m. Saturday night, on the rooftop pool deck at Plaza Hotel & Casino. The night will feature signature cocktails from Jameson, Absolute and Malibu, a photo booth, putting green, and bingo with Lights FC prizes for the winners.
Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Chelís & staff will field what they determine to be the best Starting XI based off of a week of practice as they go for a season sweep of Saint Louis FC. The first meeting came on July 7 in Downtown Las Vegas, with Lights FC taking a 1-0 victory thanks to a late score from midfielder Raul Mendiola.
Now, a month later, the stakes will be even higher, as Saint Louis FC (7-6-8, 29 points) currently sits directly above Lights FC (7-9-5, 26 points) on the USL Western Conference table, with both clubs just a handful of spots outside of the Top-8 in the playoff picture.
The reinforcements for Lights FC returning from injury all factored into last Saturday's big home win.
Each returning from lengthy absences due to varying lower body injuries were midfielder Matt Thomas (out since June 13), forward Juan Carlos Garcia (April 14) and defender Miguel Garduño (May 23).
Garcia and Garduño both returned to spots in the Starting XI. Garduño, who was one of the team's anchors on the back line pre-injury, played the full 90 minutes, while Thomas came on as a sub to begin the second half and added his signature spark to the midfield attack with his relentless aggression.
All three had to work hard individually to get back onto the pitch, and all three also know that they'll have to keep that pace in order to hold onto their minutes, as an entirely healthy 23-man roster shares the same mindset right now - Give everything you have to grab a playoff spot come October.
"I think the desire of the whole team showed in the field (last Saturday)," Garduño said. "Everyone on this team is ready to play."
Lights FC forward Sammy Ochoa works upfield during the club's first meeting with Saint Louis FC - a 1-0 victory - at Cashman Field on Saturday, July 7, 2018. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
LIGHTS FC NOTES HEADING INTO SATURDAY NIGHT:
UFC NIGHT ON TAP AT CASHMAN FIELD: Next Saturday night, Lights FC welcomes Phoenix Rising FC to Cashman Field, as the club will be going for its fifth straight home victory. The match will also feature UFC Night in DTLV, with UFC Hall of Famer Forrest Griffin, plus current top contenders Joseph Benavidez and Claudia Gedalha in attendance. The trio will be hanging out at the pregame Zappos Tailgate, meeting and greeting fans, and will take part in events inside Cashman Field throughout the night. Tickets for next Saturday night's match start at just $15 at LightsFC.com, and also available throughout August is the "Ticket and Grub" combo, which features a $10 food voucher with each ticket purchased when buying four or more in the Supporter, Corner or Midfield Upper sections. For a full rundown of August "Saturday Night Lights" promotions and ticket specials, visit LightsFC.com/August.
PLAYOFF CHASE UPDATE: Both Lights FC and Saint Louis FC currently find themselves on the outside looking in on the Top 8 on the USL Western Conference table. Each club not only has ground to make up to grab a playoff spot in October, but each also has 13 matches remaining. Currently in the 8th and final playoff spot is Swope Park Rangers (9-8-6, 33 points). Saint Louis FC sits at 29 points, while Lights FC is at 26, meaning a road win and three points Saturday night could help the visitors gain even more ground early in a busy August schedule. Lights FC is currently 13th in the 17-team conference, but has one match remaining with three of the four clubs sitting between it and the 8th spot, beginning with Saturday's midwest showdown.
SINCE THE FIRST MEETING WITH LIGHTS FC ... : Since leaving Las Vegas empty-handed on July 7, when Lights FC knocked off them off, 1-0, Saint Louis FC has claimed points in each of its three matches. The run began with a 2-2 draw against Orange County SC, followed by victories over Reno 1868 FC, then Seattle Sounders 2. It's a club that is accustomed to playing tight matches, with a goal differential of zero through 21 contests.
FERRIÑO HONORED BY USL: Last Saturday featured possibly the best performance of the season from Lights FC goalkeeper Ricardo Ferriño, who recorded seven goalkeeper saves and his third clean sheet of 2018 in the home victory over RGVFC. In turn, Ferriño earned his first spot on the USL Team of the Week this season. It was the fifth individual Team of the Week honor of the season for the club.
DISCIPLINE UPDATES: Lights FC will be without a key piece Saturday night, with midfielder Carlos Alvarez serving the second leg of a 3-match suspension following a red card in a July 26 match at Seattle Sounders 2. Meanwhile, three Lights FC players each find themselves one yellow card suspension. Defenders Marcelo Alatorre (4 yellow cards) and Marco Cesar Jaime Jr. (7), are each one away from a 1-match suspension, while fellow defender Joel Huiqui (10) is one away from a 2-match suspension.
INJURY UPDATES: For just the second time this season - The first being last Saturday's match - Lights FC enters its upcoming match with an empty injury report.
Lights FC defender Joel Huiqui is introduced before the club's 1-0 victory over Rio Grande Valley FC at Cashman Field on Saturday, August 4, 2018. (CREDIT: L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
WHO TO KNOW FOR LIGHTS FC
Defender Joel Huiqui (#3) returned to the captain's role last Saturday night and immediately delivered. On top of a stellar defensive effort, he scored his fourth goal of the season in the 82nd minute via a header off of a corner kick - The game-winner in a 1-0 victory. The Liga MX and Mexican National Team veteran has been a steadying presence on the back line all season, and he's leads the club with 45 interceptions.
Goalkeeper Ricardo Ferriño (#1) has recorded three clean sheets in 2018, and now looks for his second on the road this season Saturday night. The aggressive "sweeper keeper" keeps opponents on their toes, and his 61 goalkeeper saves are the 6th-most in the 33-team USL this season, including seven in last Saturday's home victory over RGVFC.
Midfielder Raul Mendiola (#40) has quickly become a fan favorite with Lights FC as a midseason signee. The former LA Galaxy fixture scored his second goal of the season on Saturday, July 7 - the deciding score in a 1-0 home victory over Saint Louis FC - then followed it up with the first Hat Trick in club history at OKC Energy FC four nights later. He's proven to be an aggressive, speedy force within the attack, and others are feeding off of his energy and hunger.
Forward Sammy Ochoa (#9) will look to once again break through offensively, as he sits tied with Mendiola and Carlos Alvarez for the team lead in goals with 5. During the club's current 4-match home winning streak, Ochoa's contributions included two goals in a June 16 victory over Seattle Sounders 2.
WHERE TO WATCH AND LISTEN TO LIGHTS FC AT SAINT LOUIS FC:
- Carlos Alvarez, Cash the Soccer Rocker & Co. will host a free poolside watch party, starting at 5 p.m. Saturday night, on the rooftop pool deck at Plaza Hotel & Casino. The night will feature signature cocktails from Jameson, Absolute and Malibu, a photo booth, putting green, and bingo with Lights FC prizes for the winners.