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A true roller coaster affair at Cashman Field on Saturday night ended with Las Vegas Lights FC taking some positives forward from an thrilling-yet-heartbreaking draw.
Lights FC scored two late second half goals to complete a furious comeback rally, but visiting Fresno FC scored in the final minute of stoppage time, ending the match in a 2-2 draw.
The result moved Lights FC to 7-12-6 (27 points) as it now heads into the first of two remaining Silver State Cup road matches at Reno 1868 FC on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., with the hunger to empty the tank in chasing a USL Western Conference playoff berth still clearly present.
Saturday's nearly 90-minute battle back from an early deficit was proof.
"We know that one of our biggest principles is intensity - Today, we were an intense team," Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez said. "You win with 80% intensity, 20% quality. In the beginning (of the match), we had a distraction in the opening minutes and conceded a goal. We kept trying, trying, trying, we had 20 shots.
"The soccer gods didn't send us a win."
The goal in the fourth minute of the match by Juan Pablo Caffa came after an early mistake by Lights FC on its own half of the pitch. It gave Fresno (8-9-10, 34 points) early momentum, but Lights FC made it clear immediately following the score that it wasn't going to simply let a home match get away easily.
The equalizer nearly came in the 23rd minute, when Lights FC's Raul Mendiola had a screamer from the right side cross the box and ricochet out off of the left post. But Lights FC stayed aggressive, and eventually, Mendiola broke through.
The match-tying goal came in the 64th minute, when Omar Salgado made an impressive streak down the center of the pitch, eventually letting off to Mendiola, who fired to the top-left corner of the goal from about 25 yards out to make the crowd of 5,779 on hand erupt.
Lights FC clearly smelled blood, as recent signee Rafael Garcia would push his new club ahead with a similar distance strike in the 86th minute.
Three points and a massive victory appeared all but in hand, but in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time, Fresno's Renato Bustamante was able to punch a cross into the box past Lights FC keeper Angel Alvarez while sliding to the turf.
"Outside of that last minute, it was a totally well-managed game (by us)," Sánchez said. "That intensity, for 93 minutes, it favored us. In the last minute, it was against us."
Taking one point as opposed to three, Lights FC now finds itself 10 points outside of the Western Conference's Top 8 with just nine matches left to play. Making a playoff push is not impossible, but will require wins in a hurry.
There would be no better way - or place - to start that run than on Tuesday night against in-state rival Reno 1868 FC (10-6-8, 38 points). The second of three legs of the Silver State Cup will air locally on myLVTV and stream nationwide on ESPN+.
The first meeting between the two - back on March 24 at Cashman Field - ended in a dramatic 1-1 draw, which Lights FC nearly won in the closing minute off of a corner kick.
According to Sánchez, though, Tuesday's opponent name doesn't matter coming off of a match like Saturday's.
"We were very clear in the locker room - It's not about Reno, it's not about the rivalry," Sánchez said. "Tuesday, we need to do the same we did tonight. We need to be a little better, but still intense. It's the biggest challenge for an athlete to compete against themselves. Today, we set that bar really high."
Lights FC players score an 86th minute goal by Rafael Garcia (second from right) during a 2-2 draw with Fresno FC on Saturday, August 25, 2018, at Cashman Field. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC).