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RENO – Through two of three legs in the inaugural 2018 installment of the Silver State Cup, the series hasn't lacked at all in drama.
Unfortunately for Las Vegas Lights FC, that drama ultimately didn't tilt in its favor on Tuesday night, as the team's first meeting in Reno ended with the hosts scoring a stoppage time dagger to take a 2-1 victory.
For the second time in four nights, a stoppage time score cost Lights FC points on the table, with the second instance just happening to come against the club's biggest rival. The Silver State Cup will conclude in Reno on Saturday, Sept. 22, with the team up north holding an edge heading in to claim the 2018 crown.
The result capped a night in which Lights FC had long stretches where it outplayed Reno 1868 FC, but couldn't find the back of the net enough to make those stretches count for more. The loss also dealt a tough blow to Lights FC's hopes for a USL Western Conference playoff spot with eight matches left to play in the regular season.
"We faced the opponent goal with clear shots all night and were not scoring, and in professional football, if you don't kill, they will kill you," Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez said. "I'm proud in a big way, because my team gave everything in the 90-plus minutes.
"Now, I need to make my arguments to make them believe and to fight, fight, fight for the important things still remaining. We need to feel proud of what we still can do."
Unlike in the first meeting between the two clubs, Reno 1868 FC (11-6-8, 41 points) was able to get on the board first Tuesday night, and it came in painful fashion just moments after Lights FC (7-13-6, 27 points) nearly struck first.
In just the fifth minute of the match, Lights FC's Sammy Ochoa fired a ball from distance towards the left edge of the goal, only to see it ricochet straight back off of the post. After Reno collected possession, a long ball down the center of the pitch found the streaking Brian Brown, who made one touch out of the air on the ball before flicking it up and over the charging Ricardo Ferriño to score from beyond the 18-yard box.
Following a trying first half, which saw the score stick at 1-0 at the halftime break, Lights FC came out in the second frame ready to rally, just as it did on its home pitch three nights prior.
Just two minutes into the second half, Ochoa was able to get a measure of revenge, serving a ball into the center from the right side while on the attack, which found Carlos Alvarez. The Lights FC captain then punched in his sixth goal of 2018, tying him for the club lead with Raul Mendiola.
Not long after, Ochoa saw another chance go off of the left post, and Mendiola would find the post later in the second half, as well, as Lights FC stayed aggressive on the hunt for three points and a significant leg up in the Silver State Cup series, but struggled to add an exclamation point.
Then, the last-minute bad luck struck again.
As was the case three nights earlier, when Fresno FC scored in the closing minute of stoppage time to end that match in a 2-2 draw at Cashman Field, Reno was able to take advantage of a sliver of daylight in the final moments, as well.
This time, a ball was served in over the Lights FC defense, where it found Antoine Hoppenot for a 1-on-1 chance. He was able to elevate the ball just over Ferriño, sending the home crowd up north into a frenzy, and Lights FC off of the pitch in disbelief.
Statistically, the two teams played nearly even all night, splitting possession and duels almost down the middle. Lights FC out-shot Reno 1868 FC in the match, 19-12.
"We were offensive-minded with our three (second half) subs - We were looking to win," Sánchez said. "I swear, the next time we come up here (on Sept. 22), we will be the better team."
Lights FC now has its final extended break of the 2018 season, as it won't be back in action until Saturday, Sept. 8, when it hosts LA Galaxy II (7-13-6, 27 points) at Cashman Field at 8 p.m. to kick off a month that features four of five matches on home turf.
"The rest - mentally and physically - will be very important," Sánchez said. "Since early August, this team has learned a lot of things. It's coming in a very important moment, because we have eight important games still to go."
Beginning with the highly-anticipated $5,000 Helicopter Cash Drop at halftime of the Sept. 8 match, several unique promotions are coming in the season's final full month. The schedule will also include a pair of exclusive Season Ticket Member parties on Sept. 12 & 18, a Mexican Independence Day fireworks celebration following the Sept. 16 home match vs. Portland Timbers 2 and the first Bobblehead Night in club history on Sept. 29, with the first 5,000 fans in attendance receiving a bobblehead of Lights FC mascot “Cash the Soccer Rocker.” For full details on the month ahead, plus to purchase single-match tickets starting at just $15, visit LightsFC.com/September.
Lights FC's Sammy Ochoa (center) collects possession during a 2-1 loss to Reno 1868 FC on Tuesday, August 28, 2018. (CREDIT: Reno 1868 FC).