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Preseason Week 3: A look ahead to the Las Vegas Lights

Instead of our usual game preview of an MLS opponent, we are heading to Vegas to see the Colorado Rapids play in a preseason match against the Las Vegas Lights FC.

Image taken from the Las Vegas Light’s Twitter account (@lvlightsfc)

Preseason is in full swing and this weekend the Colorado Rapids are heading to Las Vegas to play their fourth preseason match, this time against Las Vegas Lights FC. The Lights are a USL team, so first and foremost, much like Whose Line Is It Anyway, the points really don’t matter here.

I don’t care if we get throttled 8-0, or turn it around and beat them by the same margin. This is a preseason match against a USL team who is being nice enough to host us. Don’t expect us to come out and play our best XI, as we’ll likely get a chance to see some of the trialists get minutes. This is about team dynamics and chemistry, not about the scoreline.

The history of LVLFC is not exactly a long one – their inaugural season was in 2018. They started as an idea when Las Vegas submitted an MLS expansion bid back in 2014. They were going to put in a 24,000 seat stadium in downtown Vegas, which sounds like a recipe for a great time. Unfortunately, their bid was not accepted, but nonetheless got their USL team when the current owner, Brett Lashbrook, submitted a proposal in April of 2017. After a vote from the City Council, they announced the team on August 11, 2017, and began play in 2018.

Their first season was not all that successful on the field, but certainly an entertaining one nonetheless. Aside from having one of the best looking jerseys I have ever seen, they also have a lot of gimmicks to attract fans to the games.

They’ve inexplicably been using a llama as their animal mascot. Their mascot is Cash the Soccer Rocker, some sort of inhuman hybrid of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. The underside of their jersey has a smiley face emoji with confetti surrounding it, to celebrate goals.

Because of a sponsorship with the Plaza Hotel and Casino, players earn casino chips after home wins with three or more goals. They might not seem like a very big team, but they certainly seem to have the most fun out of any soccer team in the country. Honestly, they’ve quickly become one of my favorite teams in any league in the US, and in any sport. They just seem like they are all about having a good time. What’s not to love?

So, how good of a team are LVLFC?

Well… eh, not very. They finished 15th out of 17 teams in the USL Western Conference last year, getting a possible 31 points out of 24 games, with a record of 8 wins, 19 losses, and 7 ties. Gee, doesn’t that sound familiar? Yep, in a weird twist of fate, we’ll be playing a USL team who actually ended with the exact same record as we did in 2018. Also like the Rapids, they’re going through a large roster change in preparation for the 2019 season.

Their new coach for 2019 is Eric Wynalda, the long-term USMNT mainstay from 1990 through 2000. He’s spent some time on the coaching staff with the now-defunct Atlanta Silverbacks, but this is going to be his first real chance to compete in professional soccer as a coach. Notable players on the team included Freddy Adu, one of the greatest journeymen in the sport having played with 13 different teams across 8 different countries (and he’s only 29!) and ex-Rapids player Carlos Alvarez who led the team in goals last year.

Now, their roster is mostly comprised of a series of players who made appearances with various US youth national teams, players drafted in later rounds of the MLS SuperDraft, and even some players who have some Liga MX experience. Additionally, their focus may have moved to playing local talent. Goalkeeper Thomas Olsen, backup keeper Angel Alvarez, and midfielder Matt Thomas are all Las Vegas natives. They also re-signed Sammy Ochoa, who played 2,765 minutes and had 30 starts in 32 games during the 2018 season. He scored a bicycle kick goal in the Light’s last home game of the season, making him a returning fan favorite.

Don’t expect anything earth-shattering to come out of this game. Preseason isn’t a thing to take very seriously, as like I said earlier, it’s not necessarily about the result. So what if the Rapids can beat a team in the USL2 5-0? It isn’t a fair comparison to make if there is such a vast gap between the two teams. These preseason matches are more about seeing how the team is developing. We’ve had a huge turnover in the roster, and combined with a few injuries, we’re going to see a very different roster compared to where we were last October. Practice is one thing, but it still can’t replicate playing a full 90 minutes against another team.

I personally will be traveling to the game, so I’ll be reporting on how the team looks. In the meantime, what are you looking to see from the game? Anyone else making the trip?

Note: It’s still not clear if the game will be streamed anywhere, but it starts at 3 pm MT on Saturday, February 16th.