If there was a perfect time for Las Vegas Lights FC to welcome Orange County SC to Cashman Field, this could be it.
It's a perfect storm, of sorts, for Lights FC and Head Coach Isidro Sánchez.
Saturday night, his team put forth one of its most spirited efforts of the 2018 season, earning a 3-3 draw with in-state rival Reno 1868 FC in a wild match that saw Lights FC score three equalizers, including one in the 90th minute.
The team is in the closing stretch of the season with a renewed energy and fight, and just before turning the corner, played arguably its best start to a match this season in an August 15 loss in Orange County.
Now, Lights FC (7-15-7, 28 points) has its eyes set on playing spoiler against an Orange County SC (18-7-6, 60 points) club that is trying to tie up the top seed in the upcoming USL Western Conference playoffs.
The two will tangle Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Cashman Field. It will be Industry Night, with all Las Vegas service industry employees in attendance getting a free beer at the Zappos Tailgate Party, starting at 5:30 p.m. For full details, and to purchase tickets starting at just $15, visit LightsFC.com/September.
Wednesday's match will also air live locally on myLVTV and stream nationwide on ESPN+.
"We're playing against the number one team (in the conference), with the highest probability to be the USL champion this season," Sánchez said. "When it's the USL final, and I'm on my sofa watching Cincinnati vs. Orange County, I want to be able to sit there and say we were clearly that much better than that team one month ago. That can return us a little bit to this sense of where we deserve to be."
Orange County currently holds a one-point edge on Phoenix Rising FC for the top spot out west, and can expect a stiff challenge in its first trip to Las Vegas.
The two teams tangled back in March in the preseason and battled to a tough 1-1 draw, then Orange County took the first regular season matchup, 3-1, after Lights FC came out hot on a night where it was a bit short-handed due to injury and suspensions. Lights FC led that match early, 1-0, before Orange County's high-scoring front attack made its mark and capitalized on mistakes.
Avoiding similar mistakes will be key for Lights FC not only Wednesday night, but beyond to close out its inaugural season. Each of the club's five remaining opponents on the slate are either currently in the playoffs or just outside the Top-8 and trying to fight their way in.
Lights FC is entering play Wednesday night feeling confident about its offensive firepower stemming from Saturday's performance.
The starting strikers - Raul Mendiola and Daniel Guzmán Jr. - accounted for all three of the team's goals, while forward Sammy Ochoa came off of the bench to provide two late assists. Overall, Lights FC was able to fire off 27 shots in an up-and-down match.
Getting what would be the biggest win of the 2018 season on Wednesday night will require more than just goals, however.
"We need to be intelligent with how we are going to win," Sánchez said. "I think they are the most opposite team to us in the league. They're slow-paced, with a lot of passes. They don't rush, they're a patient team. You need to rush them, set the rhythm and the pace you want to play with. We are a really, really, really uncomfortable team to play for a team trying to build."
Lights FC's Matt Thomas works for possession in the first meeting with Orange County SC in Irvine, Calif., on August 15, 2018. (CREDIT: OCSC)
LIGHTS FC NOTES HEADING INTO TOMORROW NIGHT:
LOOKING BACK AT THE FIRST MEETING: Lights FC had one of its best starts to a match in the 2018 season in its first meeting with Orange County SC back on August 15. However, that start - paced by the third goal of the season for Matt Thomas - didn't hold, as it fell 3-1 in Southern California. Scoring all three goals in that match for OCSC were Thomas Enevoldsen and Michael Seaton, who have combined to score 27 of the club's 62 goals this season - A total that is tied for second in the 33-team league.
BOBBLEHEAD NIGHT COMING SATURDAY AT CASHMAN FIELD: Wednesday is just the start to a big 2-home match week for Lights FC, with one of the season's biggest promotions coming to cap it off on Saturday night. The first 5,000 fans in attendance for Saturday's 8 p.m. home match vs. OKC Energy FC will receive a bobblehead of Lights FC mascot "Cash the Soccer Rocker." For full details on the first Bobblehead Night in club history, visit LightsFC.com/September.
MENDIOLA HONORED FOLLOWING 2-GOAL PERFORMANCE: After scoring two of Lights FC's three goals in Saturday's draw at Reno 1868 FC, Raul Mendiola earned USL Team of the Week honors for the second time this season after joining the club midseason. His two scores gave him a club-high nine goals in 2018.
DISCIPLINE UPDATES: Lights FC will be without midfielder and captain Carlos Alvarez Wednesday night, as he serves a mandatory one-match accumulation suspension following his fifth yellow card of the season in Saturday's match in Reno.
INJURY UPDATES: Lights FC enters play on Wednesday night with no injuries, and a full complement of players available.
Lights FC defender Joel Huiqui is introduced at Cashman Field before the club's home match vs. Portland Timbers 2 on Sunday, September 16, 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 scored his team-leading 8th and 9th goals of the 2018 season in last Saturday's draw at Reno 1868 FC, and can give instant offense whenever the ball touches his feet. He's proven to be an aggressive, speedy force within the attack, and others are feeding off of his energy and hunger.
Midfielder Daigo Kobayashi (#44) continues to be a steadying influence on both ends of the pitch for Lights FC. As somewhat of an extension of the coaching staff on the field, Kobayashi has provided great offensive control and much more. The long-time MLS veteran and former member of the Japanese National Team has four goals and two assists in 2018.
Forward Omar Salgado (#8) has made a quick impact with the club as a midseason addition, with three goals and two assists already to his credit. 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.
Defender Joel Huiqui (#3) remains a stabilizing veteran presence for Lights FC on the back line. The long-time Liga MX and Mexican National Team veteran continues to produce, with 92 defensive clearances, 116 duels won and 56 intercepted passes on the season.
HERE IS EVERYTHING ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW AHEAD OF WEDNESDAY'S MATCH VS. ORANGE COUNTY SC:
- Wednesday's match kicks off at 8 p.m. For on-site ticket purchase at Cashman Field, the box office will open at 12 p.m., and Will Call opens at 4:30 p.m.
- Wednesday's Zappos Tailgate Party, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Cashman Field parking lot, will feature BBQ options, beer specials, tailgate games for adults and kids, music, Lights FC merchandise and much more. As part of Industry night, all Las Vegas service industry employees can also enjoy a free beer at Wednesday's Zappos Tailgate Party.
- Gates to the stadium for general public entry open at 7 p.m., with three available entrances at Cashman Field: The Main Gate, the Zappos Gate and the Stadium Corner Gate.