Daigo Kobayashi is in his first year with the Lights FC, but he’s no stranger to the Las Vegas soccer scene.
For the past five offseasons, the midfielder has visited the city to host training sessions for Japanese kids and pass down his knowledge of the game. It’s been a fun way to unwind for the 35-year-old, and a way to give back after 17 years as a professional.
This year’s training sessions figure to be the biggest yet, as Kobayashi is now an even bigger part of the community after becoming one of the Lights’ most dependable players.
“We just play together and have fun,” Kobayashi said. “It’s good.”
Kobayashi started holding his offseason training sessions after coming to North America to play for Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps in 2013. Typically 50 to 60 kids will come out for drills and tips from the Fuji native, whose career started in Japan’s second division in 2001.
The only downside is that few kids recognize Kobayashi since his time with Japan’s domestic leagues and national team was so long ago. He made one appearance for his country in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago, but that was in 2006.
“Now young kids don’t know about me,” Kobayashi said. “I played for the national team more than 10 years ago, so it’s a different generation. But I played for MLS and now the Las Vegas Lights, so people support me. I’m so happy here.”
Most of Kobayashi’s time in the MLS was spent with the New England Revolution from 2014-17, but the team released him last offseason. The Lights gave him a chance to continue his lengthy career, and he’s been one of their main playmakers in the midfield.
Kobayashi has completed 79.5 percent of his passes, the most on the team, and has scored four goals.
“He’s a great player, so I’m happy to have him right behind me,” forward Omar Salgado said.
Kobayashi is also third on the Lights in key passes, which means the recipient of the ball takes a shot, with 17. The team completes only 67 percent of its passes, the worst rate in the USL, but Kobayashi still gives the attack flow at times.
He’s accomplished that despite being the second-oldest player on the team, as his birthday comes one day after defender Joel Huiqui’s. The Lights have been careful with Kobayashi’s minutes — he’s started and finished just four games this year — but he’s been a stabilizing force on the field while deepening his connections to Las Vegas off it.
“I think we are really growing up, this team,” Kobayashi said. “Getting better. Now we have good, quality players.”
Lights add midfielder
The Lights signed defensive midfielder Rafael Garcia, the team announced Friday.
The 29-year-old was with the LA Galaxy organization from 2012-17 and won two MLS Cups during that time. He also spent time with New York Cosmos B, a National Premier Soccer League team, earlier this season.
“Rafa is a unique player, because he is experienced, but also has the hunger of a younger player,” technical director Jose Luis Sanchez Sola said in a statement. “He is a hard-working, holding midfielder, and I’m sure that he will never stop during the minutes he plays.”