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Lights players return from national team responsibilities

Several consecutive days of rain in San Salvador had muddied the field when El Salvador hosted the United States during a recent CONCACAF Nations League match.

Needing at least a draw to qualify for the 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the El Salvador players didn’t mind getting dirty.

So when Las Vegas Lights forward Roberto Molina was asked to lay on the muddy field to stop a free kick from going under the wall of leaping defenders, he didn’t give it a second thought.

“As one of the youngest players, you have to do what’s right for the team,” Molina said. “That’s something I would never mind, it’s part of the game.”

Molina and goalie Tomas Romero have returned to the Lights after spending time away with the El Salvador national team in the CONCACAF Nations League earlier this month, helping the team earn a win and two draws. They’ll be back in action Friday night when the Lights play host to Phoenix Rising at Cashman Field.

El Salvador drew with the United States to qualify for next year’s Gold Cup. Molina, 21, appeared in two games, coming in the second half as a sub. Romero, 21, started in net on June 7 against Grenada, allowing two goals and making 10 saves.

As both were called to the national team, the USL Championship season did not stop, forcing both to miss two Lights games.

“It’s very unique having to leave,” Romero said. “When (the club team gets) a break, everyone else is taking a few days off, but we have to go and travel to train and play (for the national team).”

Molina leaned on his veteran teammates on the El Salvador national team to help with the transition. He said it also helped having his Lights teammate by his side joining the national team.

The time spent with the national team, and away from the club team, has its benefits. Molina said facing the top players from each country, in “intense” games, can better prepare you for when you return to the club team.

“Coming back, it makes you play at a higher gear because you’re carrying so much momentum from the past games, with the national team and hard opponents,” Molina said. “It helps you a lot.”

Romero, whose El Salvador national team journey started with the U-17 team, is hopeful that his recent contributions can help El Salvador build towards qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.

“We’ll have our team and style of play sorted out, and I think we’ll be good enough to qualify,” Romero said.”

Both rejoin the Lights right as the team is overcoming their recent struggles. After starting 4-3-1 and being in a playoff spot in the standings, the Lights went winless (0-3-2) in their next five games and scored just one goal.

But in their last two games, with the help of the team returning to full strength, the Lights have pulled out two victories. They have benefited from the return of their top two scorers, Danny Trejo (8) and Cal Jennings (5), who have a goal each in the Lights’ recent wins.

Romero believes the team has turned the page and is ready to make a push for the playoffs.

“We were struggling for a bit, we couldn’t finish, we also had some problems with injuries,” Romero said. “But now that the majority of the guys are back with the group, we’ve been having a good run of games and we hope that continues.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on Twitter.

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