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Las Vegas Lights’ Jose Luis Sanchez Sola quit on players, fans

Updated September 18, 2018 - 7:41 pm

As failed experiments go, it wasn’t exactly Jeff Goldblum climbing onto a laboratory telepod in the movies and becoming “The Fly.”

As far as anybody knows, Jose Luis Sanchez Sola — aka “Chelis,” first coach, then technical director (whatever that is) of Las Vegas Lights FC — didn’t grow bristly hairs on his back and become arrogant and violent.

Unless he was in the presence of a referee or a loud-mouthed spectator.

But in the end, the experiment failed just the same.

Check that. Chelis didn’t even make it to the end of the team’s first season. He resigned Tuesday with six matches left.

Wrote somebody who apparently cared on a Twitter account: “He was best known for manhandling referees, being suspended for weeks on end, and occasionally smoking in the stands.”

Plain and simple, Sola quit. Quit on his players, on his fans, on those who hired him and paid him a decent wage and were loyal to and supportive of him even when that became difficult.

Except that Tuesday was an off day for the Lights, this was really no different from Vontae Davis quitting on the Buffalo Bills at halftime on Sunday. What happened to winners never quit, and the other axioms they used to tack up on the walls of high school gymnasiums?

(And, yes, I still think the WNBA’s Aces should have played that game in Washington, D.C.)

Bad timing

The professional thing for Sola to do would have been to wait until the end of the season, or at least until the Golden Knights started playing hockey games that counted in the standings.

Mutual decision, we thank and wish him well, good seats still available.

Two paragraphs, max, in the sports briefs.

But when Sola up and quit, owner Brett Lashbrook was forced to up and issue a terse statement:

“El Chelis has left his role as Technical Director at Las Vegas Lights FC.

“Our club’s goal firmly continues to be the next great American soccer success story, both on and off the field. We fully recognize that our results in all aspects must continue to improve to achieve this goal.

“We look forward to beating Reno 1868 FC on Saturday night.”

Which would be the Lights’ first win in six weeks.

Disclosure: Lashbook wasn’t alone in thinking that hiring a colorful Spanish-speaking coach was a good idea for a first-year minor league soccer franchise trying to gain a foothold in what suddenly has become a major league city.

Over coffee during the startup phase, Lashbrook solicited thoughts about somebody such as Julie Foudy, former captain of the U.S. women’s national team, becoming Lights coach.

She would make an excellent second manager, I said. But he would do better to hire a coach that would appeal to the local Hispanic community, which I thought was mandatory to sustain the team at the turnstiles.

Toasting Chelis

On the day he was announced, Sola invited the team’s supporters to the Gold Spike downtown to have a beer with him. When the check arrived, he told Lashbrook to put it on his credit card.

Lights FC received some nice publicity.

Multiple suspensions for altercations with referees and fans were not as well received.

The Lights became a headache for the league office. Perhaps boorish behavior is tolerated with the Raiders and even viewed as an asset, but it didn’t play so well in United Soccer League headquarters in … hold on a minute … still checking … Tampa, Florida. (Thanks, Siri!)

The law of diminishing returns soon would be running unmarked in the 18-yard box.

Sola’s belligerence and stubbornness for doing things his way began to impact the team in other ways. While many remained steadfast in their support, Lashbrook admits the non-Spanish speaking segment of the local soccer community has turned its back on Lights FC. It’s a fence that might be difficult to mend.

In the end, or toward the end, the hiring of Jose Luis Sanchez Sola will be recalled — if it is recalled at all — as a footnote in Las Vegas sports history, an experiment that failed.

But at least it ended without Geena Davis having to fire a shotgun.

Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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