Miranda Alam, Courtesy of Lights FC
Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018 | 11:35 p.m.
The Las Vegas Lights FC were defeated 4-2 by D.C. United Saturday night at Cashman Field to close their preseason schedule with an 0-3 record.
As a United Soccer League team, the Lights challenged themselves by playing three Major League Soccer teams (a division above their own). The exhibition games don’t go on their official record, but don’t try to tell that to head coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola. He wasn’t too forgiving when evaluating the performance in a profanity-laced description.
“We are missing passes and players are losing one-on-one situations. These players haven’t lost these situations on other teams so why are they doing it here? It’s not fair for the city, the owner or the team,” he said.
Once again Cashman Field’s stands were packed with thousands of crazed soccer fans. The 7,158 waved flags, sang chants and fired off blue and yellow smoke bombs throughout the game.
The average attendance for the Lights’ three preseason games was 7,865 and the outstanding support isn’t lost on the coach and players.
“Today we took 10 steps backwards,” Sola said. “We are done taking advantage of this responsibility. We have this opportunity in professional soccer, and it’s important for me and the team. I have many things in my bag to solve this, so I’m going to correct it.”
Many of the players see this team as an opportunity to resurrect their career, and feel as if they’ve personally failed the fans with the three outcomes.
“We are embarrassed as players because we want to win,” defenseman Miguel Garduno said. “There are thousands of people coming to watch us, and support us. We are embarrassed because we haven’t won yet but I’m sure that if we keep working we are going to win games.”
As disappointed as Sola and his players are after the third straight loss, the team showed improvement in each game. After being shut out on Feb. 10 against the Montreal Impact, the Lights scored twice in each of the last two games.
D.C. United jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a first-half goal from Yamil Asad, and an early second-half goal from Darren Mattocks. Paul Arriola, who played on the U.S. national team, assisted on both goals.
That level of competition is why Sola shouldn’t be so hard on himself, or his team. Once the playing level evens out in the regular season, the Lights should fare better.
“I think it’s very good,” Garduno said. “These are MLS teams. When you look at their rosters and their players, most of them play for national teams. They are stars, some of them. We are players that want to take back our careers, so we need to go step by step until we win.”
The Lights got on the board in the 52nd minute when forward Juan Calderon was awarded a penalty shot, and buried it behind D.C. United keeper Steve Clark.
“The team now has the ball and creates a lot more chances to score,” Garduno said. “We didn’t even score in the first game so scoring shows improvement.”
D.C. United would extend its lead to 3-1 with a goal in the Ian Harkes in the 79th minute, but the Lights struck again.
Midfielder Freddy Adu, who made his Lights’ debut in the second half, sent a beautiful pass into the box, and Garduno tapped it into the net.
Adu played nearly 90 games with D.C. United after making his MLS debut at the age of 14. He has since struggled to stick with a team and has bounced all over the world to different leagues.
“I love him as a person,” Sola said. “I have a good relationship with him, but he is very far from the Freddy Adu this team needs.”
The Lights’ have lived up to their promise of playing an attacking game, and that has backfired against more athletic MLS teams.
“We cannot concede so many things, so easy,” Sola said. “Yes maybe they did a good job, but we gave them too many mistakes.”
“This style of play is very difficult to create because it is very risky.
The idea of playing fast and vertical with a lot of pressure is good,” Assistant coach Isidro Sanchez said. “We are happy as a coaching staff with that, but what makes us angry is the players not getting the results for their effort.”
The team now has three weeks off before their regular season debut on March 17 in Fresno. The home opener is March 24 against Reno 1868 FC.
“The team is still working,” Garduno said. “We had never played before so we are still working. We are going to be ready to play in the league games.”