Las Vegas Lights FC have not had any easy games so far this year, but they may have had their toughest yet, when they took on Phoenix Rising FC in Arizona on Saturday and lost 5-1.
This was always going to be one of the toughest fixtures of the season, but the game followed a familiar pattern for Lights FC: Keep in the game at least through 45 minutes, and then fall far behind in the 2nd half to lose in a lopsided manner. In this one, it was another night of growing pains for Steve Cherundolo’s group.
Las Vegas started with five players on the field on loan from LAFC: defenders Mohamed Traore and Tony Leone, the latter making his professional debut on the night, midfielders Alvaro Quezada and Bryce Duke and forward Cal Jennings. There was a new goalkeeper for Lights FC, with brand-new signing Alex Rando stepping in with Tomas Romero on LAFC duty and Phillip Ejimadu undergoing season-ending surgery.
Phoenix started scoring early, with Rufat Dadashov getting an early cross, doing a pirouette, and slamming it home less than two minutes into the game.
But there was a bright spot in the game, with Jennings scoring an equalizer in the 22nd minute. The goal was all his, as he stole the ball on the edge of Las Vegas’ final third, pushed upfield, and chipped Andre Rawls in Phoenix’s goal to make it 1-1.
Cal's Equalizer in the 22' | Presented by America's First Credit Union pic.twitter.com/5d0tkTnGK4— Las Vegas Lights FC (@lvlightsfc) May 23, 2021
From there, it looked like Vegas may find a foothold in the game, keeping Phoenix away from the goal for long stretches and the Assistant Referee bailing them out on one scoring play that was called back for offside.
Phoenix got the winning goal in the 39th minute and it was the turning point on the night. Joe Farrell got the final touch with a touch header off a corner kick, and fooled Rando in goal, with so much traffic right in front of him.
Rando had a terrific double save a couple minutes into the 2nd half, stopping a long-range shot from Solomon Asante, before blocking a close-range attempt moments later.
I’d say Phoenix’s third goal was really a killer, as Santi Moar hit a volley inside the 6-yard box from a misplayed Lights FC clearance, and the attempted closeout on Moar, I believe by Leone, missed the mark and the Spaniard just lashed the ball to make it 3-1 in the 52nd minute.
Las Vegas’ defense hit a familiar skid by that point, the minutes wearing on and the inexperienced backline getting run ragged in the 2nd half. The next goal came a few minutes after Moar’s, in the 55th minute, with Dadashov taking a feed, turning on the defender and burying the chance to make it 4-1. To be fair, Dadashove had his way on the turn but the actual finish was real thread-the-needle stuff.
The final goal of the game came from the penalty spot, as Asante took the spot kick in the 63rd minute after Las Vegas’ Julian Gaines clipped Ryan Flood on a run into the box.
On-loan LAFC forward Christian Torres came off the bench in the 2nd half again, as he works his way back to health. Other subs in the 2nd half for Vegas were midfielder Frank Daroma, and LAFC Academy products Paul Son and Diego Rosales.
Las Vegas will get a week to lick their wounds and regroup ahead of their next match, Saturday against San Diego Loyal. On paper, San Diego are far more experienced, but they are winless to start the season as well, so who knows? Las Vegas are putting together solid first halves, but they have considerable work to do to play a complete 90 minutes. Perhaps they’ll make it click in the next game.
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