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IRVINE, Calif. – Playing shorthanded in the second leg of a three-games-in-eight-days stretch, Las Vegas Lights FC came out Wednesday night like a team on a mission against one of the USL Western Conference's top outfits.
A big second chance goal by Las Vegas's own Matt Thomas gave Lights FC an early lead, but the visitors were ultimately outpaced by Orange County SC, 3-1.
Now, the focus for Lights FC (7-11-5, 26 points) shifts to 8 p.m. Saturday night, when it welcomes another top Western Conference club - Phoenix Rising FC - to Cashman Field, where it will be going for its fifth straight victory on home turf.
Saturday will be UFC Night at Cashman Field, with UFC Hall of Famer Forrest Griffin, UFC flyweight Joseph Benavidez and UFC women's strawweight Claudia Gedalha on hand at the match and interacting with fans at the Zappos pregame tailgate party, which begins at 6 p.m. For a full rundown of available ticket promotions - including the popular "Ticket and Grub" combo - and special offerings this month at Cashman Field, visit LightsFC.com/August.
Lights FC entered Wednesday's showdown with Orange County SC (14-6-5, 47 points) missing a few key pieces due to red and yellow card suspensions, but the Starting XI that Technical Director Chelís & staff fielded came out of the gates in a pressure match-up on fire.
Against an aggressive, high-scoring club that entered the night second in the USL in goals scored, Lights FC shut down several scoring chances early on with aggressive defensive efforts. Moving the other way, Lights FC was nimble and creative in setting up scoring chances of its own, looking to pull off its biggest upset of 2018.
The effort paid off, as Lights FC got on the board first. In the 16th minute, Eric Avila swung in a ball from the right side that Matt Thomas headed off of the crossbar. Thomas hustled for the rebound and again used his head to punch in his third goal of the year.
"I'm sure the first 18 minutes of the game were the best period of time we have played all season," Chelís said. "For me, that's the kind of Las Vegas Lights I want to see. When you are doing things the way they should be done, then as a consequence, you get the benefits. In this case, it was the Thomas goal. It was a nice goal because of the effort and concentration. Thomas, in that specific play, represented the spirit of the team - Never give up and the compensation will come."
The lead would be short-lived, though, as Thomas Enevoldsen scored his USL-leading 14th goal of 2018 just 10 minutes later. Then, in the 29th minute, his fellow striker Michael Seaton scored to push the hosts ahead.
Seaton would score again in the 65th minute to give himself a brace, but Lights FC stayed aggressive to the finish, especially after an opportunity to play 11-on-10 presented itself with just over 30 minutes remaining in the match. The reason for that was OCSC starting goalkeeper Andre Rawls getting sent off due to a red card. OCSC subbed in backup keeper Casey Beyers, but had to take another player off of the pitch due to the card.
The chances did continue to come for Lights FC, but the attack had several near misses, both off of ample set piece chances and on the final touches in run of play needed to capitalize.
On the night, Lights FC outshot OCSC 16-9, while possession between the two clubs was nearly dead even.
Despite the result, Lights FC only lost a point in terms of its margin from the Top 8 in the chase for a Western Conference playoff berth. It now stands eight points behind San Antonio FC, who currently occupies the No. 8 spot.
With 12 matches left to play, seven will be contested at Cashman Field, where the club is 5-2-3 on the season.
The quick turnaround could be easier from a match where the club showed strong courage and effort. It will take that and a little bit more to get a much-needed result Saturday night from what should be a fireworks-filled battle at Cashman Field.
"Today, I feel proud of the team," Chelís added. "Tonight, all of the players will feel the satisfaction of having given everything. Our responsibility, though, is to keep working so that 'everything' is enough to win.
"It's important to convince the players that they can do it (Saturday). Today was all about the effort."
Lights FC defender Juan Herrera-Perla goes for possession during a 3-1 loss at Orange County SC on Wednesday, August 15, 2018.. (CREDIT: Orange County SC).