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Pacific Division Preview: Las Vegas Lights FC

Perhaps the most enigmatic team in the USL Championship.

Hannover 96 v SC Freiburg - Bundesliga Photo by Lars Kaletta/Bongarts/Getty Images

With Sacramento Republic FC set to kick off the 2021 USL Championship season Friday, we’re previewing all the teams that will serve as their main competition in 2021, in the Pacific Division. Up next, the enigmatic Las Vegas Lights FC.

Key players in: Danny Crisostomo, Duncan Turnbull, Phillip Ejimadu, Eric Iloski, ???

Key players out: All of 2020’s roster (seriously)

Head coach: Steve Cherundolo, 1st season. Cherundolo is a longtime former U.S. international who spent his entire club career playing for German side Hannover 96. After retiring, he’s been an assistant coach and youth coach in Germany, with some assistant stints with the U.S. youth national teams. This is his first head coaching stint at the pro senior level.

What changes did Las Vegas Lights make in the offseason?

Where do I begin? Las Vegas did nearly everything in the offseason aside from sell the team and change the name. For now, they remain Lights FC and will play home games at Cashman Field, and literally everything on the sporting side is different. MLS outfit LAFC has taken over sporting operations as part of an affiliation agreement. That agreement is intended for one year, but one wonders if it’s just a transition phase before the club becomes LAFC II, we’ll see.

In addition to Cherundolo being named head coach, Las Vegas will actually spend the week in Los Angeles and train with LAFC, traveling to Vegas only to play games. It’s an arrangement that has raised some eyebrows, but only if you don’t realize just how often people in Southern California take a quick jaunt on the weekend over to Vegas. Given the squad currently only has nine announced players with just over a week before the season opener, there will be more roster moves announced in the coming days, but expect a good number of LAFC players on loan seeing action with Lights FC.

Who will be the key man in 2021?

Again, this will probably not be very enlightening but we still really have no sense of who all is going to be on this team. I expect many of the players announced to play key roles, but even many of them have limited pro experience so far so there’s a lot of questions.

Ok, what about LAFC players?

That’s the stuff. When LAFC is not dealing with injuries and other absences, I would expect Homegrown players Tony Leone, Erik Dueñas and Christian Torres to play some or perhaps a lot of time on loan for Las Vegas this season. Leone, a center back, hasn’t played a pro minute yet and I bet he’ll see a lot of action if he’s not involved with the first team, while Dueñas, a fullback/midfielder, has had a cup of coffee in MLS but could use more playing time. Torres, a forward, got a fair amount of playing time in MLS in 2020, but to help his development he could also see some action.

Other candidates to be loaned from LAFC: young center back Mohamed Traore, forward Cal Jennings, who had a strong rookie season in the USL Championship for Memphis 901, and fullback Marco Farfan, who might see a logjam if players ahead of him stay healthy at LAFC.

So should we write them in for last place in the Pacific Division or what?

That’s a good question. We really won’t know how this team looks until we see a few games, but I would imagine this team will play like an MLS2 squad — inconsistent game-to-game, youthful, probably pretty disjointed at times. That said, LAFC have a very specific style of play that is hammered home, and Las Vegas will play the same way. Will that translate against independent USL Championship teams? That really is to be determined, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lights FC end up in the basement. But we’ve seen MLS2 teams be surprise outfits, too, and who knows? Maybe they can spring some surprises in 2021.

Games against Sac Republic in 2021:

  • May 12: at Sac Republic
  • July 14: at Las Vegas Lights
  • Aug. 14: at Sac Republic
  • Sept. 5: at Las Vegas Lights

What do you think? Leave a comment below.