In 2019, Las Vegas Lights FC missed the playoffs for a second straight season. Which players should return for the 2020 campaign?
Eric Wynalda has signed to return to Las Vegas Lights FC in 2020 as the manager and technical director. While his first season in charge saw the Lights improve from their inaugural 2018 campaign, they still missed the playoffs and will need to continue their improvement next season. With the 2019 USL Championship Final in the rear view mirror, I take a look at who should be brought back for the 2020 season.
Per the team’s website, this was the final roster of 2019 (not including loanees):
Thomas Olsen, Adam Hobbs, Angel Alvarez
Kevin Garcia Lopez, Gabe Robinson, Javan Torre, Bryan De La Fuente, Christian Torres, Ferrety Sousa, Jonathan Levin,
Mobi Fehr, Pablo Cruz, Victor Rojas, Junior Sandoval
Edwin Rivas, Sammy Ochoa, Irvin Parra, Tabort Etaka Preston, Jose Villarreal, Santiago Echavarria
Who should come back in 2020?
Thomas Olsen: The Las Vegas native was a star in his first full season in goal for the Lights. His nine clean sheets and 93 saves placed him in the top ten in the league for both categories. It’s a no-brainer to bring back the talented goalkeeper that can also serve as an excellent club ambassador for his hometown team.
Gabe Robinson: He was voted the club’s 2019 MVP by the fans and definitely played well in central defense. Known for his long throw-ins, the 24-year-old finished the season with three goals and a club-high in clearances and blocks and only missed one match.
Irvin Parra: In his first season with the Lights, he became the club’s all-time leading goalscorer. He led the team in goals and assists in 2019. He’s a physical presence up top and can play as the center forward or on the wing. With a proven track record in the league, Parra can be relied upon to provide production going forward.
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) April 14, 2019
Tabort Etaka Preston: An electrifying forward, Tabort Etaka scored eight goals and added three assists this season. He has great pace and seemed to grow in confidence as the year went on. Only 21 years old, the Cameroonian should be a building block for the Lights.
Mobi Fehr: The best passer on the 2019 Lights roster, Fehr should be brought back to control the tempo of the match in the midfield for 2020. He has the ability to spray the ball around the pitch when he’s playing in the midfield rather than filling in on the backline.
Javan Torre: While he wasn’t the official full-time captain, I think Torre was the true leader for Eric Wynalda’s side. The 26-year-old center-back showcased an ability to play as a left-back if needed and that he can play a role in the attack, scoring four goals. His leadership ability and versatility on the backline should secure him a spot in 2020.
Jose Villarreal: He played in less than half of the matches for the Lights as he worked his way back to full fitness after some inactivity in his career. The former LA Galaxy and Orlando City playmaker has the quality in the final third, finishing 2019 with a goal and two assists. I think with a full preseason under his belt, Jose could be a gamechanger for Las Vegas.
Ferrety Sousa: After playing sparingly for most of the season, Sousa became a mainstay in the lineup down the stretch. His skill, speed, and attacking mindset benefitted the club whether he was playing on the backline or on the wing. The 28-year-old could be a quality, versatile veteran going forward.
Thoughts on some of the other 2019 players
Behind Thomas Olsen, I think you could potentially bring Adam Hobbs back. He was serviceable in limited action and could be relied on if needed. Angel Alvarez’s time with the club is almost certainly over after limited chances over two seasons and a rough US Open Cup performance.
On the backline, Kevin Garcia Lopez would be an honorable mention player I would bring back due to his pace and aggressiveness. But, his lack of ideal size and crossing accuracy could limit his potential in the future. Christian Torres is versatile, with the ability to play in the midfield or at left-back or center-back, but he’s a bit reckless and doesn’t pass well enough to be a consistent midfielder. Bryan De La Fuente was injured for most of the season and I’m not sure he did enough to earn a spot. But, I think Wynalda will likely bring back a trusted player that he spoke glowingly of throughout his rehab and after his return.
Pablo Cruz, who Wynalda said would be one of the best players in the league, was not able to consistently make plays in 2019. Whether he was starting or coming off the bench, he would have flashes of his skill on the ball and passing vision. He definitely was the victim of poor finishing on his passes (49 chances created with only two assists), but he needed to be more of an impact player. His talent could bring him back in 2020 because his performance would probably have him on the fringe. Junior Sandoval is a well-rounded player, tallying five assists and two goals, and seemed to command respect from his teammates. You could argue that he should be back and that he was rarely in poor form or that he was simply a decent player that was never a gamechanger.
Players like Edwin Rivas, Jonathan Levin, Santiago Echavarria, and Victor Rojas simply didn’t do enough to make me confident they will return. Each player had positive moments, but they were few and far between during the lengthy USL Championship season. Sammy Ochoa battled back from injury and scored twice in nine appearances. A veteran of the league, the club could keep him around for experience up top. Or, they could decide that there isn’t enough juice left in the burly 33-year-old’s legs and let him find a potential final career stop.
Overall, I think Eric Wynalda will need to focus more on fringe MLS players and USL veterans rather than a collection of NPSL and NASL veterans. They also need to add more youth and pace to the midfield and attack, in the mold of Tabort Etaka.
There has been no word yet on when roster decisions will be announced by Las Vegas Lights FC, but they should come soon as the 2019 season officially ended last week with Real Monarchs SLC hoisting the trophy.