2021 Preview: Las Vegas Lights FC emerge as Las Dos with LAFC affiliation

The last time we saw Las Vegas Lights FC, they were a club struggling for success under caretaker manager Frank Yallop after Eric Wynalda was fired during the season’s four-month delay. In 2021, Lights FC will have a brand-new look as they became the affiliate of Major League Soccer’s LAFC. Dubbed by some as Las Dos (a play on LA Galaxy II’s Los Dos nickname), the Lights will be made up of players that LAFC want a better look at or loanees from the MLS side or its Academy. The team will train in Los Angeles with the first team and only travel to Sin City for “home” matches. Another former USMNT player will coach in Las Vegas as Steve Cherundolo takes the reigns after cutting his coaching teeth over in Germany.

With the change in club structure, there are zero players back from the 2020 roster. Blake Frischknecht was originally re-signed, but his request to be released was granted by the club. For Lights FC fans, there’s a struggle to see how this is “their team”. The club’s roster doesn’t include a homegrown player from Las Vegas, as was promised, and the players aren’t even living in the city. Known for a passionate fan base thus far in the club’s existence, it will be interesting to see how the supporters show up this season at Cashman Field.

First Match: Wednesday, May 5, at LA Galaxy II

Home Opener: June 5th vs. Tacoma Defiance

Must-See Matchup: October 30 vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies

In their final match of the 2021 season, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, reigning Eastern Conference champions, will visit Cashman Field. This is the first-ever meeting between the two clubs.

Key Players

Phillip Ejimadu/Duncan Turnbull: Goalkeeper should be a position of strength for Lights FC this season. Ejimadu was on the LAFC roster the last two seasons and spent that time on loan with FC Tucson, where he played regularly, and with San Diego Loyal SC, where he did not appear. Turnbull arrives on loan from Portsmouth, an English club that currently plays in League One. The former Notre Dame goalkeeper has made one appearance for Portsmouth.

Danny Trejo: The 14th overall selection in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft by LAFC, Trejo was an explosive forward during his college career at CSUN. I would expect him to be a focal point of the attack for Lights FC in 2021.

Michael Yeboah: The 19-year-old Ghanaian comes to Lights FC on loan from Accra Great Olympics in the Ghana Premier League. He’s scored four goals in the 2020-21 season, his debut campaign, and was nominated for the league’s Player of the Month in February.

CC Uche: A second round pick of LAFC in this year’s MLS SuperDraft, Uche arrives with experience playing for Duke and Ohio State. He will likely be relied upon to help lead the Las Vegas backline, a role that will be crucial for this team finding success.

Strength: The resources of LAFC

The biggest benefit for the 2021 Lights FC roster will be the affiliation with LAFC. The 2019 Supporters’ Shield winning club will be able to provide talented players on loan from the end of their MLS roster or from the club’s Academy. Also, the players officially signed to the Las Vegas roster will be able to train with the first team and utilize the MLS-level facilities on a daily basis. Being around a top-notch organization can do nothing but help a young roster for the Lights.

Weakness: Experience

While there’s uncertainty surrounding who will actually be on the Lights’ roster, it’s fair to assume that most of the players that suit up for the club will be young. Of the 11 players currently signed, six will be making their professional debuts. For the other five players, Yeboah is a teenager, Ejimadu is still only 21 years old, Turnbull is in his first professional season, Julian Gaines made one appearance on an Academy contract with Austin Bold FC, and Danny Crisostomo, the most experienced Lights player, is only 24 years old. Lights FC will benefit from the young legs on the roster, but they will be lacking in match experience and veteran savvy. They will need to learn how to be professionals, win close matches, and self-motivate throughout the 2021 season.

2021 Prediction: 7th or 8th in the Pacific Division

With such a limited official roster, it’s tough to really get a grasp on how this club could look on a week-to-week basis with loanees from LAFC. But, Las Vegas Lights FC will definitely be young and focusing on development, which doesn’t typically bode well for a lot of consistent success. With the club essentially only a Las Vegas team on home matchdays, they also could be without a true “home field advantage”, especially depending on how the supporters in Vegas decide to feel about this unusual situation.

Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.