It’s the dream of most professional athletes to become a hometown hero and play for your local team. For Thomas Olsen, he was able to experience that for multiple seasons with Las Vegas Lights FC.
“I remember getting draft by the Colorado Rapids while I was training with the Lights, which Chelis wasn’t happy about for some reason,” Olsen told BGN with a laugh. “Things didn’t end working out with the Rapids, but I remember getting a call from Romi Gomez (former Lights FC goalkeeping coach), who said a spot opened up and that it was a great opportunity for me to come back home and play.
“I was thrilled to continue playing futbol but even more thrilled I could be in Vegas.”
After very limited opportunities in 2018 during the club’s wild inaugural season under Chelis and Isidro Sanchez, Olsen had his breakout season with Lights FC in 2019. He made 30 starts for the club and picked up nine clean sheets. “The whole 2019 season was a dream, so many great memories,” he said. Listing his favorite memories from his time with the club, Olsen recalled, “Some of my favorites were: our Father’s Day game. I got to walk out with my dad before the game and it was a really cool moment for both of us. Second was my first game against OKC (Energy FC) in 2018 near the end of the season.”
“It was my first break out game with the team and led me to become the starter the next season. Lastly, the Reno game in 2019. We lost 2-1, but I remember how crazy the fans were that night and I also remember staying after the game for a couple hours to sign autographs and have fun with the people that supported me all year long.”
Olsen was always a fan favorite in Las Vegas, the local kid that was also a star on the pitch. “Obviously being the hometown guy and playing in most of the games was a great combination,” he explained. “Vegas isn’t that big, especially the soccer community, and I knew everyone associated with it from my youth playing days. Also my family has been huge part of Vegas soccer for many years. The Kellogg-Zaher Soccer Complex is named after my cousin, Joe Zaher.”
“It was almost destined and that was something I was so grateful for. From day 1, every fan I came in contact with was so happy for me and I just wanted to make them proud to see one of their own shine on the big stage. I might forget some games and performances, but I’ll never forget the connection I had with the fans.”
Along with those great memories for TKO, there are some frustrations that he leaves behind from his time with the Lights. He feels the club’s over-the-top gimmicks impacted the performance on the pitch and the club’s legitimacy throughout the USL Championship, adding that he and Lights FC owner Brett Lashbrook never saw eye to eye on that. “We also didn’t spend quite enough money to be a true contender in the league,” Olsen said. “That doesn’t mean that we didn’t have good players, but we never had the depth that other clubs like Phoenix or Orange County had. With that being said, I still think in the last 2 seasons we had the ability to make playoffs but just came up a bit short.”
Olsen also feels like he did a lot to build up the club during his time there, even when things were not going well, and never received much appreciation from Lashbrook. “He used me for my image and likeness around the city, which I was okay with, but a simple ‘thanks for all you did for the club’ would suffice,” he said. “But, I haven’t heard any of that and you could see why that’s frustrating.”
Lashbrook and Lights FC have entered a new, unusual era ahead of this season. The club will be an affiliate of Major League Soccer’s LAFC with the players only being in the city of Las Vegas for home matches. Olsen understands that COVID-19 has turned the USL Championship upside down and that the financial hit without ticket sales and concessions was brutal on the owners, including Lashbrook. Olsen believes this affiliation with LAFC may have been a last resort to avoid another season where he could lose money. This season, the cost will be low as the players will either be on first team contracts with LAFC or very inexpensive due to their youth.
— Las Vegas Lights FC (@lvlightsfc) March 12, 2021
But, Olsen feels the pain of the diehard Lights FC supporters. He explained, “I feel like this move is terrible for Vegas fans. This is not a Vegas team anymore. This a rental team from LA that our fans will have to pay and go see. It’s not fair to the fans and not to mention, it’s unprecedented.”
“The only saving grace the club will have with the fans is that my friend, Blake Frischknecht, is still on the roster. I grew up playing with him and we are cut from the same cloth. I will being cheering for him big time and so will the fans.”
As far as the other players from the 2020 LV roster, Thomas feels they weren’t put in a good position to secure deals with new clubs as only four players are signed to USL deals elsewhere and he said it isn’t because of a lack of talent.
Now that he’s on the market, the 26-year-old Olsen is ready to prove himself with a new team. “I’m always motivated to prove myself,” he said. “Each step of my career I’ve had to do so. I was doubted when I first got to the Lights and showed that I can not only play at this level but excel. I’m hopeful for a good opportunity to arise so I can keep this journey going. Only time will tell.”