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Lights, under new leadership, optimistic after latest win

It’s been an uphill climb for the Las Vegas Lights FC since joining the United Soccer League in 2018.

The Lights, now in their seventh season, have yet to qualify for the USL playoffs. They’re also coming off their worst campaign to date after finishing 3-21-10 in 2023.

Optimism remains at Cashman Field, however. Former Major League Baseball slugger Jose Bautista is the new chairman and governor of the Lights after purchasing the club from original owner Brett Lashbrook in January.

The results haven’t taken an immediate turn, but the Lights (4-7-3) ended an eight-match winless streak with a 3-1 win over Miami FC on Saturday.

“The response was good,” coach Dennis Sanchez said. “We talked all year about how goals change things. We’ll have to go back and watch video about how we can get better. (But) to come back and find a way to win was really important for us.”

The Lights’ last USL Championship win before Saturday was April 6 against San Antonio FC. The team was 0-5-3 its previous eight league matches and was shut out three times.

It seemed at first like that trend would continue Saturday. Miami FC (2-11-1) struck first in the 25th minute thanks to a goal from midfielder Frank Lopez.

The Lights dominated possession but struggled for a long time to find an equalizer. Then forward Khori Bennett struck in extra time in the first half to level the game at 1-1 before the break.

Bennett then scored the game-winning goal on a penalty kick in the 63rd minute.

“We knew coming into this game, playing a Miami team that maybe results-wise they aren’t the best right now, but we knew they were a talented team,” Bennett said. “Coach Dennis always preaches about staying in the game, sticking to what we know.”

There were plenty of empty seats at Cashman Field during the win. The announced attendance was 1,748.

Weather played a role — the temperature was 104 degrees for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff — but better results will also get more eyes on the Lights.

The team feels its culture has strengthened since Bautista took over. The club believes Bautista is taking his role seriously and wants to build a respectable product.

“I’m a big energy person. I always take a growth mindset approach,” Sanchez said. “It’s been a process this year and there’s been ups and downs, but that’s normal for any team. For me, it’s for us to peak at the right time.”

The Lights face Loudoun United FC on the road Friday before returning for a three-game homestand. Sanchez called it an important stretch for the team to try and right the ship as its 34-match regular season continues.

“It won’t always be perfect, but we have to push to earn respect in this league,” Bennett said. “It’s a process. It’s a long season.”

Other Las Vegas Valley pro sports

Vegas Knight Hawks

The Knight Hawks (7-3), who started their season 7-0, lost their third straight game Saturday. This time they fell 46-40 on the road in overtime to the Sioux Falls Storm (3-7).

All three of the Knights Hawks’ losses have come in one-possession games. Saturday was their second overtime loss in three weeks.

Quarterback Jorge Reyna threw for 140 yards and two touchdowns and was picked off once. Wide receiver Caleb Holley caught six passes for 66 yards and three touchdowns in the loss.

Contact Danny Webster at dwebster@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DannyWebster21 on X.

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