Special to the Sun
Saturday, July 15, 2017 | 2 a.m.
It’s a Saturday, and the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas is rocking as usual. Only now, the parade of people stretches past the canopy and down the half-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard North to Cashman Field.
Thousands of Las Vegans, proudly painted in their team colors, beat drums, chant and wave scarves as they make their way to the professional soccer game. When the throng of fans enter Cashman Field, they are met with flares and team-colored smoke bombs pluming into the night sky.
That’s the vision of Brett Lashbrook, the current founder of Las Vegas Soccer LLC and hopeful future owner of Las Vegas’ first professional soccer team.
Lashbrook has years of experience in soccer, previously serving as the chief operating officer for former USL and current Major League Soccer club Orlando City SC and as the special assistant to the commissioner’s office and legal counsel at MLS headquarters in New York City. Originally from Kansas City, Lashbrook’s family attained its wealth in the gas and oil industry in the Midwest.
One of the final hurdles in Lashbrook’s quest to bring the United Soccer League to Las Vegas comes Wednesday morning when the the Las Vegas City Council votes on a stadium lease. The lease agreement would be for 15 years, ending in 2032, and would allow a USL team to share Cashman Field with the Las Vegas 51s baseball franchise.
If the lease is approved by the city, Las Vegas could be awarded an expansion team by the USL shortly thereafter, Lashbrook said. It would begin play in early 2018.
“There are true, hardcore soccer fans here that can create that environment and if we stay authentic to that, they will fill in the stadium,” Lashbrook said.
The team would become the 33rd USL franchise, including 11 that are owned by Major League Soccer clubs as developmental squads. The other 21 teams are privately owned and take players on loans from MLS teams. It’s the Triple-A for professional soccer in the United States.
Many of the USL teams share a stadium with baseball teams, including Reno 1868 FC, which play at Greater Nevada Field alongside the Reno Aces of the Pacific Coast League.
The lease proposal with Las Vegas says that if MLS were to award Las Vegas a franchise in the future, the city could terminate the lease with the minor league group. But if MLS eventually does come here, it would likely be buying Lashrook’s USL team and transforming it into an MLS squad. That’s what has happened with six of the last 10 MLS expansion teams, including Orlando, which Lashbrook was a part of.
The isn’t the first time Las Vegas has been mentioned as a potential landing spot for professional soccer.
Two years ago, Las Vegas was in contention for an MLS expansion team, but the efforts never materialized because there wasn’t an adequate stadium. The group hoped to build in Symphony Park in downtown but required public money to help with the costs and couldn’t gain approval from the council.
The new bid, though, doesn’t require public financing. And, just like two years ago, Las Vegas still has the demographics — one-third of the area is Hispanic, a group that loves its soccer — that make it a natural fit for soccer.
“I look at this and I think it can absolutely work, and the more I’m downtown and I talk to people and I see the demographics of downtown and the demographics of soccer in this country, I see a lot of overlap,” Lashbrook said.
The 51s, who eventually could move to a new Summerlin stadium, would have first priority at Cashman Field, according to the lease agreement. Soccer would pay $6,000 in rent for events and would be responsible for laying temporary grass over the infield and removing and replacing the pitchers mound for every game.
“It’s a significant financial investment on behalf of the club, but I’m an incredibly strong believer that we must create an authentic soccer experience,” Lashbrook said. “Playing in the outfield wouldn’t feel like a soccer stadium, and playing on dirt and grass wouldn’t be an authentic soccer experience. We will do it at our expense, but we want that atmosphere.”
The FIFA regulation field would be pressed against both sets of stands to give fans the best viewing experience. Lashbrook wouldn’t commit to ticket price ranges yet but says they will be significantly lower than the other major professional teams that are coming to Las Vegas.
Average ticket prices for USL teams across the country are about $15. Attendance ranges drastically from city to city, with FC Cincinnati drawing 19,887 per game and the New York Red Bulls II drawing only 565. The average attendance across the league is 4,420 this year.
“The USL is thrilled with the tremendous progress and grateful for the hard work by the city of Las Vegas to bring professional soccer to downtown,” USL President Jake Edwards said. “We received a very strong application from the ownership group led by Brett Lashbrook and his family and are optimistic the City Council will approve the lease agreement for Cashman Field next week. A professional club in Las Vegas further strengthens the league’s presence on the West Coast, creating regional rivalries that drive fan passion for the game.”
Lashbrook’s vision is a grand one, but it’s up to the City Council, the team and, most importantly, Las Vegas to make it a reality.
“Bring your drums,” Lashbrook said, “bring your flares, bring your smoke bombs and we can all dance and party for 90 minutes while singing 'Ole, Ole Ole!'”