Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Wearing neon-colored, player autographed Las Vegas Lights FC scarfs draped on top of their green Mexican national team shirts, Felipe De La Cruz and his 13-year-old son say they are enthusiastic about supporting Las Vegas’ newest team.
Until recently — before their city obtained its own professional United Soccer League franchise — the father and his American-born son, Lorenzo, were loyal to Pumas, a Mexico City-based professional club.
“But since we live in Las Vegas, we have to support the team that’s here,” said the elder De La Cruz Saturday night during the team’s fan fiesta outside Cashman Field before its 3-2 exhibition game loss against the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer.
Part of the Lights philosophy, team owner and CEO Brett Lashbrook has repeatedly said, is that it would represent the melting pot community in Las Vegas, which will in turn identify with the team.
Lashbrook’s first step toward a diverse team and in turn fanbase, was to hire prominent and bilingual Mexican coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, “El Chelis.”
Speaking before the game, Lorenzo — who asked for Lights season tickets for Christmas — spoke about how impressed he is about being able to cheer for a local team. “You see people waiting around, and everybody is having fun and playing games, and the next moment” there’s soccer, he said.
“I’m actually surprised to actually have (a team),” the teenager added. “This is pretty amazing.”
Father and son have regularly interacted with the team, attending its practices and the franchise’s first game a week ago. They have taken photos with the players, who have autographed balls, scarfs and jerseys. “We’re very in with the team,” Felipe De La Cruz said.
To draw a diverse crowd, Sola — a offensive-minded coach — has brought on local talent and former top-tier players from Mexico’s professional leagues.
And the crowd has responded. De La Cruz, his son and 6,047 other fans were there to witness the first and second scores in Light’s franchise history. Blue and yellow flags swung, pink powder floated in the air, drums thumped and chants accompanied them.
The bilingual nature of the franchise was evident with the music, American jams blared on speakers, and a live mariachi band entertained the fans before the game. A hamburger stand sat next to one that sold Mexican food.
During the game, one of the drum-toting fan groups chanted in English while the other provided classic Hispanic soccer cheers personalized to Las Vegas.
Jairo Jimenez and his nephew, Richard Lores, who have lived in Las Vegas more than 40 years, were hoping to identify with the team but were waiting to see results on the field.
Jimenez, who was born in Cali, Colombia, cheers for his country’s national soccer team, while Lores is more of a National Football League fanatic, he said.
“It’s great to have team. We should have had one a while back, but there’s always a start, and it’s great,” Jimenez said. “It’s an incredible atmosphere.”
Juan Jose Calderon, who scored both Lights goals, in the 66th and 68th minute, after the game spoke about how grateful the team is about its fans, who have been “very committed” since the team was formed.
Before kickoff, Felipe De La Cruz, put his arm around his son as the Canadian and Americans anthems played. They listened attentively, clapped and sat down to watch the game.