Lights FC's Raul Mendiola works through traffic against OKC Energy FC at Cashman Field on Saturday, September 29, 2018. (CREDIT: L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – As Las Vegas Lights FC looks for motivating factors entering the 2018 USL season's final week, it won't be tough to get up for Saturday night's road match at San Antonio FC.
Lights FC has put forth inspired performances over the course of the last two weeks, and now will be doing so against one of three teams vying for the final two Western Conference playoff spots that have yet to be clinched.
The two will duel at Toyota Field at 5:30 p.m. PT Saturday night, with the match streaming nationwide on the ESPN+ app.
"They are playing to qualify for the playoffs, we are playing against ourselves - Everyone on this team knows that for a better future, we need to close out the season strong," Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez said. "We have three more games to show, to show, to show. The last three games we've played, we have been close and put forth good performances, but we're just not dotting the 'i' and crossing the 't.'"
The two teams haven't met since April 27, when San Antonio FC came to Cashman Field in Downtown Las Vegas and handed Lights FC its first regular season loss in club history. Following a strong 2-0-2 start to its inaugural season, San Antonio started strong on a Friday night in DTLV en route to a 3-1 victory where Lights FC played sloppy and couldn't catch up.
Despite the tough results of late, the club heads to Texas for the return match with a good bit of confidence, having hung tough with several strong opponents over the course of the last couple of weeks. Last week's 2-match home schedule saw Lights FC come from behind against first place Orange County SC before ultimately falling late, 5-3, then take a heartbreaking loss Saturday night to OKC Energy FC, 1-0, despite a stellar pro debut from Las Vegas native Thomas Olsen in goal.
While the goal scoring has been inconsistent of late, the offensive attack and aggression has been there, as Lights FC has out-shot its last three opponents by a combined total of 72-30.
Meanwhile, San Antonio currently finds itself as the only team outside of the USL Western Conference Top 8 that is alive for a potential playoff berth. A loss to Lights FC Saturday night could bring those hopes to an end.
"They are looking for that opportunity, and we need to play against that," Sánchez said. 'This game is much more dangerous for them."
Saturday's match is the first of three for Lights FC in the final week of its regular season schedule. The final home match of 2018 will double as Fan Appreciation Night on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Cashman Field. The night will feature available All-You-Can-Drink beer party passes, plus a post-match autograph session with the entire team on the pitch. For more information, and to purchase tickets starting at just $15, visit LightsFC.com/FanAppreciation.
Lights FC head coach Isidro Sánchez. (CREDIT: L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
LIGHTS FC NOTES HEADING INTO SATURDAY NIGHT:
FAN APPRECIATION NIGHT DETAILS: Wednesday's 8 p.m. match at Cashman Field will be nationally broadcasted on ESPN3 as the USL Game of the Week, and it should also be a memorable night for fans in attendance for Fan Appreciation Night. The final home match of the 2018 season will feature available all-you-can-drink beer for fans who are 21 and older. Available is the $20 Party Pass, which includes a match ticket, plus the all-you-can-drink beer wristband. For current ticket holders for the match, the all-you-can-drink beer wristband can be purchased for just $10, while it is free for 2018 Season Ticket Members who have already renewed their season tickets for 2019. The night will also feature a post-match autograph session on the pitch with the entire team. Tickets for Wednesday night's match vs. Phoenix Rising FC start at just $15. Visit LightsFC.com/FanAppreciation for more details.
OLSEN'S BIG DEBUT: Last Saturday night's 1-0 home loss to OKC Energy FC included the visitors scoring a tough luck late goal to take the three points. But the star of the night for Lights FC was Las Vegas native Thomas Olsen, who made his pro debut with the start in net for his hometown club. Olsen made six saves on the night, including four highlight reel-worthy stops in the second half of the match. He did so in front of a heavy contingent of friends and family in attendance to watch the former Bishop Gorman High School standout.
DISCIPLINE UPDATES: Lights FC has no players suspended for Saturday's match. However, defender Miguel Garduño enters action one yellow card away from an automatic 1-match accumulation suspension.
INJURY UPDATES: Forward Omar Salgado enters Saturday's match listed as questionable with an upper body injury.
Lights FC's Starting XI poses before taking on OKC Energy FC at Cashman Field on Saturday, September 29, 2018. (CREDIT: L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
WHO TO KNOW FOR LIGHTS FC
Forward Raul Mendiola (#40) quickly became 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 on Saturday, Sept. 22, vs. Reno 1868 FC, and can give instant offense whenever the ball touches his feet. Mendiola also recorded an assist on one of the season's most impressive goals - scored by Sammy Ochoa - last Wednesday night. 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) continues to be one of Lights FC's consistent performers in both directions, no matter where the coaching staff lines him up within its formations. The former No. 2 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft has six goals and four assists on the season.
Midfielder Rafael Garcia (#25), like Mendiola, is a former LA Galaxy member who has aded a veteran spark and presence for the club as a midseason addition. The 2-time MLS Cup champion has been a regular starter in the midfield since joining Lights FC, and has also brought plenty to the table in terms of igniting the offensive attack.
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.