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Las Vegas Lights FC provided some of its best home turf theatrics of the 2018 season on Wednesday night, including a furious late first half rally and a score right out of the gates to start the second half.
But in the end, Orange County SC strengthened its hold on the top seed in the USL Western Conference, surging late to come away with a 5-3 victory at Cashman Field.
Lights FC (7-16-7, 28 points) had treated this match like a playoff game, welcoming in one of the 33-team league's top outfits, but despite putting a scare into the visitors, couldn't grab what would have been the signature win of its inaugural season.
"At the end of the day, this team is in first place, and today, if you watched our team closely, we were there with them the whole time," Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez said. "The big difference between their team and our team is consistency, and how long they can maintain that good performance."
Orange County (19-7-6, 63 points) came right out of the gates on a mission on a comfortable Wednesday night in Downtown Las Vegas.
Aodhan Quinn opened the scoring with a goal in the eighth minute, followed by Thomas Enevoldsen - one of the league's top scorers - capitalizing on a Lights FC defensive mistake to make it a 2-0 advantage in the 31st minute.
Lights FC didn't fold under the pressure, though, as a pair of players responded with their first goals of 2018. Doing so first was forward Juan Carlos Garcia in the 36th minute, then defender Miguel Garduño in first half added time. His header to close off a ping pong-like play in front of the net sent the hosts into the locker room with tons of momentum.
It carried over into the start of the second half, when forward Sammy Ochoa skied in front of the net to head in a beautiful send from Raul Mendiola, giving Lights FC a 3-2 edge. The hosts were set up with an opportunity to pull off a big upset, but Orange County did what it has done all season - Score in waves.
The USL's highest-scoring team came on with goals in the 54th and 76th minutes, then Enevoldsen scored his second on the night as an exclamation point in the final seconds of added time.
Despite again out-shooting its opponent (20-16), splitting possession down the middle and nearly equaling Orange County in passing accuracy, Lights FC wasn't able to capitalize on its key opportunities with the same efficiency as its opponent.
The time to rebound will be short, as Lights FC hosts its second-to-last home match of 2018 on Saturday at 8 p.m. against OKC Energy FC. It will also be the first Bobblehead Night in club history, as the first 5,000 fans through the gates (opening at 7 p.m.) will receive a bobblehead of Lights FC mascot "Cash the Soccer Rocker." For full details, plus to purchase single-match tickets starting at just $15, visit LightsFC.com/September.
With plenty still left to prove before the season closes, Sánchez knows he'll have a hungry group of players to field, no matter who earns those spots.
"It will be a lot of new faces - Everyone has the same opportunity," he said. "There's a 23-man roster, and everyone deserves the opportunity to show what they have and that they want to be here. Everyone will have his opportunity in these next two days."
Lights FC's Rafael Garcia (right) fights for possession during the club's match on Wednesday, September 26, 2018, at Cashman Field vs. Orange County SC. (CREDIT: L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)