Las Vegas Lights FC are back for their fifth season in 2022, and with the USL Championship season opener on tap Sunday when they take on New Mexico United on the road, let’s run the rule over the team for the upcoming season.
Las Vegas Lights FC: 2021 record (6W-23L-3D, 8th place in Western Division)
2021 seemed to be a transition year for Las Vegas. After being an independent team their first three seasons, the club entered an affiliation agreement with LAFC last year, and the players were exclusively hand-picked by the MLS side’s brain trust, as was head coach Steve Cherundolo, making his head coaching debut at pro level. The result? It was a brutal season results-wise, with the club out of the playoff chase essentially in the first month and shipping goals at a hair-raising rate.
Of course, with the way the roster was structured, the intention was to develop players for LAFC. While there were a few standouts, notably forward Cal Jennings and goalkeeper Alex Rando, who was absolutely pummeled game in and game out, the purpose of the team was to get reps. They did, but the product was frequently ugly, it must be said.
Head coach: Enrique Duran (first season)
Key arrivals: Abraham Romero, Jorge Imanol Almaguer, Alex Lara
Key departures: Bryce Duke, Alex Rando
On paper, it looks like the plan for this season is more of the same. It looks like around nine players signed to USL Championship deals are returning, and most of the deep-bench LAFC players who remain on that roster will also boost the ranks for Lights FC. One imagines a handful of additional free agents will sign during the season, and LAFC academy players will also likely boost the ranks. Last year, that was not nearly enough on the field, with the team wilting badly against stronger opposition. Will another year make a difference for this group? They will have more experience, including together, and that might help the team weather the tough moments better. Plus, with a new head coach in charge in Enrique Duran, after Cherundolo was promoted to LAFC head coach, maybe the team will make the adjustments necessary to compete? Don’t forget that Las Vegas’ main remit these days is to develop players for LAFC, but one hopes they can be more competitive in the process.
Player to watch: Frank Daroma
I was really high on the midfielder last year, as the 20-year-old did yeoman’s work trying to win the ball and start positive plays for Las Vegas. His game isn’t flashy but seemed to rate at the level in his rookie season. After entering the MLS Draft this year and not getting selected, something I was surprised to see, Daroma is back for another year with Lights FC. The Sierra Leone native is small, which may be working against him, but I think he could be a potential diamond in the rough. If he makes a step up in 2022, he may get a better look at MLS level soon.
Why you should watch in 2022
This is the best chance to see LAFC deep roster players and academy players get valuable reps at the pro level at this stage, and we may see another star of the future (hello, Mamadou Fall!) before they get a deserved run at a higher level. I won’t lie, I am hopeful Lights FC can be more competitive but I don’t expect them to be in the playoff chase this season, and there could be a fair few ugly results again this year. But if this team can find some real form under Duran, it could be a new age, and perhaps they can be a surprise package around a very competitive Western Conference.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.