Locomotive Digs Deep but Can’t Excavate Las Vegas Lights FC
There’s something to be said for a good storm shelter. Build it deep enough and it won’t matter how strong the tempest is overhead.
Dejan Jaković anchoring a five-man backline was Las Vegas Lights FC’s storm shelter Saturday night at Southwest University Park.
Locomotive FC pounded away — 75 percent of the possession, 10 shots, six on goal — but it huffed and it puffed and could not blow Lights FC coach Eric Wynalda’s house down.
As with all things Vegas, the house won. Or its storm cellar won, anyway.
Las Vegas’ 1-0 victory vaults Lights FC (6-4-6) into the Western Conference playoff picture, in ninth place with 22 points.
On loan from Los Angeles FC, Jaković was Man of the Match for executing Wynalda’s game plan to perfection, efficiently lacerating Locomotive’s every last step, ball and idea like John Wick with a katana.
Jaković and Co. made El Paso forwards Jerome Kiesewetter and Omar Salgado virtual non-factors, starving Kiesewetter of service and shutting down Salgado’s marauding after some early issues with the El Pasoan’s pace and skill.
Certainly, Lights FC is trying to weather a storm. Winless on the road until Saturday, playing without team captain and leading scorer Írvin Parra, Wynalda has been living up to his Dutch heritage, plugging holes in the dam any way he could.
That includes a call to a friend, LAFC coach Bob Bradley, to organize the loan for Jakovic who, at 33, was finding it tough to get minutes with MLS’ best team in 2019.
Parra was serving the second match of a team suspension after calling out Las Vegas’ management for not paying bonuses, both on his social media and, notably, in a goal celebration at home against Orange County SC, June 8.
So, yeah, big storm.
It should be noted that the USL Championship formally responded to an inquiry and stated that no Lights FC player has contacted the league about non-payment of bonuses.
Las Vegas Lights FC CEO Brett Lashbrook told SocTakes.com, "We've paid all players 100-percent what they are contractually due and every payment in our club's history has been paid on time."
Parra retracted and apologized for his statements.
None of this matters to El Paso Locomotive FC (7-5-3, 26 points), which saw its nine-match unbeaten streak snapped and dropped to third in the West.
The clear favorites going into Saturday, El Paso had built momentum with impressive away wins at Tacoma Defiance and Tulsa Roughnecks sandwiching a 3-0 takedown of LA Galaxy II at home.
But even the best teams in the world sometimes fail to deal with opposition that bunkers in deep, much less a brand new team in the American second division with little depth and fewer resources.
Head coach Mark Lowry’s possession-based style relies on players who have a good soccer IQ. Often, that means investing in and playing with older players.
But it’s a tightrope walk and the net below has holes in it. When those older players are sidelined by injury, the landing is sometimes hard and messy.
El Paso’s one real lapse Saturday came from a set piece, allowing Lights FC’s Tabort Etaka Preston to score off a free header from a well-taken free kick delivered by Pablo Cruz in the 42nd minute.
It was Las Vegas' only shot on goal and gave the visitors a lead they weren't about to relinquish.
Would the presence of El Paso center defender Chiro N’Toko have helped?
N’Toko, 31, was out with a groin injury. Defensive midfielder Yuma, 33, was available on the bench after returning from a leg injury but did not play, while his fellow d-mid, Richie Ryan, 34, was playing with a knock that sidelined him for all but the end of the game at Tulsa.
Throw in Mechack Jérôme’s severe achilles injury suffered at the Gold Cup while playing for his native Haiti and, suddenly, depth isn’t merely an issue, it’s existential.
Then Lights FC comes to El Paso and buries its goal 10 feet under ground.
After the game Lowry could only speak in partial sentences, wearing the expression of the china shop’s owner, post-bull.
“You throw five at the back it becomes…particularly on our field which is small anyway…if a team wants to come and block up like that then it’s…it’s really hard for us to break down,” he said. “The space isn’t there anyway, so…
“But the guys did a good job in the second half of getting around them...Created some good chances.
“On another day they go in.”
Locomotive FC will hope that day is Wednesday, facing a reeling San Antonio FC (4-4-8, 16 points, 16th place) in the Alamo City at 6:30 p.m. MDT.