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RENO – To cap an emotional week late in its inaugural season, Las Vegas Lights FC showed Saturday night that there is still plenty left in the tank for the stretch run, both mentally and physically.
In a wild third and final leg of the Silver State Cup, Lights FC earned a point on the road at Reno 1868 FC via a 3-3 draw.
Three different times Saturday night, Reno 1868 FC (12-7-10, 46 points) took one-goal leads. Three different times, Lights FC (7-15-7, 28 points) had an answer of its own.
"At the end of the game, I told them I'm proud," Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez said. "After taking so many punches, so many times falling down, it's good to feel proud when you make good things happen. Three times, we came from behind in an away game against a very good team. We stuck to the plan tonight and were brave."
With Sánchez calling the shots for the club, Lights FC was aggressive from the opening kick, and even though Reno 1868 FC struck first, the visitors were constantly threatening in the match's first 45 minutes. After a couple of near-misses - including one off of the post - by Daniel Guzmán Jr., fellow striker Raul Mendiola scored his eighth goal of 2018 to equalize in the 29th minute.
Guzmán Jr. had his strongest offensive performance of the season, and was rewarded with his first goal as a member of the club in the 82nd minute. The score equalized the match at 2-2, and was the result of a throw-in by Christian Torres, which was headed across the box twice by Miguel Garduño and Sammy Ochoa.
Less than three minutes later, it looked like Lights FC could be headed towards heartbreak similar to its visit to Reno last month, as Lindo Mfeka got behind the Lights FC defense to put the hosts up 3-2 late.
But Lights FC had a clutch delivery remaining, as Mendiola's second goal - and ninth of 2018 - came in the 90th minute. It also gave Ochoa his second assist of the night as a second half sub.
On the night, Lights FC out-shot Reno 1868 FC 27-12, including firing off 18 shots inside the box. It almost had even more to show for the frenetic effort, as a late first half header by Garduño appeared to cross the line into the goal, but wasn't counted as a score by the referees.
It was one of a handful of instances where Lights FC had to maintain its composure during a match which had quite a few chippy moments.
"Some people might take (tough breaks) like that as an excuse to stop working," Sánchez said. "The thing is, you need to continue forward, to stand up. There are things to solve still, but I truly enjoyed these 90 minutes."
Fine-tuning will have to be done in a hurry.
After Reno 1868 FC took home the Silver State Cup trophy for 2018 following three closely-contested matches, Lights FC turns its focus to a 2-match week ahead, with both games coming on home turf.
Wednesday night, first place Orange County SC rolls in for an 8 p.m. showdown, followed by Saturday's 8 p.m. visit from OKC Energy FC, who is still alive in the USL Western Conference playoff hunt.
"These are excellent opportunities coming at home," Sánchez said. "I told the team that we will focus on recovery Sunday, then all thinking turns right to Orange County. We need to be perfect for that opportunity."
Several unique promotions are still to come in the season's final full month, as well. At Wednesday's match, as part of Industry Night, all service industry workers can get a free beer at the Zappos Tailgate Party starting at 5:30 p.m. Then, Saturday night is the first Bobblehead Night in club history, with the first 5,000 fans in attendance receiving a bobblehead of Lights FC mascot “Cash the Soccer Rocker." For full details on the rest of the month's action, plus to purchase single-match tickets starting at just $15, visit LightsFC.com/September.
Lights FC' players celebrate a goal by Raul Mendiola (right) during a 3-3 draw with Reno 1868 FC on Saturday, September 22, 2018. (CREDIT: Reno 1868 FC)