Following a home match Saturday night that took Las Vegas Lights FC on a rollercoaster of emotional swings, there's no better way to turn the page than with a showdown against its in-state rival.
Five months after the two first tangled and battled to a 1-1 draw, Lights FC travels north for the second leg of the Silver State Cup, presented by Toro Taxes, against Reno 1868 FC on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
The match will air locally on myLVTV and stream nationwide on ESPN+, as Lights FC (7-12-6, 27 points) aims to take down its in-state rival and move closer to earning the first Cup victory of any kind in club history.
"We're trying to make a classic rivalry between two teams from the same state, and we want to make this a big rivalry," Lights FC defender Miguel Garduño said. "We have to be at our best in the field. If we do that, we believe the points will come."
Still holding onto hopes in the chase for a USL Western Conference playoff spot, Lights FC will need to flex its collective muscle on the road in a hostile environment against an opponent who has been consistently strong after a shaky start to the season. While Lights FC is currently 10 points out of the Western Conference's Top 8 with nine matches left to play, Reno 1868 FC (10-6-8, 38 points) currently sits in sixth place, but the five teams directly behind are all within four points or less on the table.
Saturday night, closing out a busy August schedule, Lights FC showed plenty of heart in mounting its most impressive come-from-behind performance of the 2018 season. After allowing a Fresno FC goal in just the fourth minute, Lights FC kept its foot on the gas and scored a pair of beautiful goals from distance in the 63rd (Raul Mendiola) and 86th (Rafael Garcia) minutes. However, a Fresno FC stoppage time score left Lights FC with only one point on the table to show for the effort as opposed to three.
Even with the dose of heartbreak to close out the night, the Lights FC coaching staff was encouraged with the team's fight, and is looking for similar fire from their team - Bragging rights on the line or not.
"We were very clear in the locker room - It's not about Reno, it's not about the rivalry," Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez said following Saturday's result. "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."
Due to the draw result in the first meeting of the year, the winner of the inaugural Silver State Cup will be determined following the third and final leg of the 2018 series in Reno on Saturday, September 22, with Tuesday's match being as dramatic a scene-setter as there could be for that finale.
Lights FC midfielder Alex Mendoza fights for possession during a 1-1 draw with Reno 1868 FC at Cashman Field on Saturday, March 24, 2018. (CREDIT: L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
LIGHTS FC NOTES HEADING INTO TUESDAY NIGHT:
LOOKING BACK AT THE FIRST MEETING: In the first regular season home match in Lights FC history, played in front of more than 9,000 fans at Cashman Field, Lights FC and Reno 1868 FC battled to a 1-1 draw. Midfielder Alex Mendoza incited one of the wildest Cashman Field celebration scenes of the season, scoring early off of a corner kick for the home club, but the match was ultimately equalized by Las Vegas native and former UNLV star Danny Musovski.
PLAYOFF CHASE UPDATE: After the weekend's USL action, Lights FC needs to rack up wins at a consistent rate to close the season to keep its hopes of a Western Conference playoff berth alive. Currently, the club is 10 points out from the No. 8 spot, holding at least one game in hand over each time ahead of it in that chase minus San Antonio FC, who it will face in Texas on Saturday, Oct. 6.
FORMER LA GALAXY PLAYERS CONTINUE TO SHINE: Both coming aboard as midseason signees, former LA Galaxy members Raul Mendiola and Rafael Garcia have continued to make a major impact. With his 63rd minute equalizer from about 25 yards out on Saturday night, Mendiola took the team lead in goals for the season with six, which includes the first Hat Trick in club history back on July 11 in Oklahoma City. Garcia scored his first goal as a Lights FC member on Saturday in the 86th minute, and has now played all 360 minutes in his first four matches with the club.
LIGHTS FC ANNOUNCES A BIG SEPTEMBER ON TAP: Beginning with a $5,000 helicopter cash drop over Cashman Field on Sept. 8 when Lights FC hosts LA Galaxy II, the club on last Thursday announced a schedule of events for what should be an entertaining month at every turn. Full details on the month's promotions are available at LightsFC.com/September, including exclusive Season Ticket Member parties, the first annual Copa Lights adult soccer tournament at Cashman Field and the first Bobblehead Night in Lights FC history. The month will feature four of Lights FC's remaining six home matches in the 2018 season.
DISCIPLINE UPDATES: Lights FC will have no players suspended for Tuesday's match. Defender Miguel Garduño, who missed the last three matches following a red card issued at Saint Louis FC on August 11, is available once again for the club.
INJURY UPDATES: Listed as questionable for Tuesday's match is midfielder Matt Thomas, who is recovering from a lower body injury.
Lights FC forward Raul Mendiola works through traffic during a 2-2 draw with Fresno FC at Cashman Field on Saturday, August 25, 2018. (CREDIT: L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
WHO TO KNOW FOR LIGHTS FC
Forward Raul Mendiola (#40) has quickly become a fan favorite with Lights FC as a midseason signee. The former LA Galaxy fixture's team-leading sixth goal of the season came in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Fresno FC, and was a screamer from 25 yards out that was one of the club's most impressive scores of 2018. He's proven to be an aggressive, speedy force within the attack, and others are feeding off of his energy and hunger.
Midfielder Carlos Alvarez (#7) made his return to the pitch for Lights FC on Saturday night, once again making an impact on both ends of the field, both controlling the tempo on the attack and in helping the defense hold Fresno FC to only 43.9 percent of the match's possession. The former No. 2 overall MLS SuperDraft pick has five goals and three assists on the season.
Forward Omar Salgado (#8) notched his second assist of the season Saturday night on Mendiola's score, which goes along nicely with his two goals so far as a midseason loan addition. A sizable striker with great skills on the ball, the former No. 1 overall MLS SuperDraft pick also plays with a fire that has been on display from the first time he took the pitch with the club.
Goalkeeper Ricardo Ferriño (#1) has earned a reputation as quite possibly the most unique goalkeeper in the USL in 2018. Playing a "sweeper keeper" style, the aggressive Ferriño is tied for fifth in the 33-team league with 67 saves.