On Saturday at 2 p.m., Las Vegas Lights FC of the United Soccer League and Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC will kick around the spotted ball (or one festooned with colored swooshes) in a preseason match at Cashman Field.
There will be another such match at Cashman on Feb. 16: Lights vs. Colorado Rapids.
Brett Lashbrook, the ambitious and gregarious Lights owner, envisions consecutive weeks of such matches at Cashman. He thinks full-fledged MLS spring training in Las Vegas would be an ideal fit.
Even if Tucson, Arizona, has first dibs.
On the same day the Lights will be making their soft debut under new coach and former U.S. Men’s National Team poster boy Eric Wynalda, eight MLS teams, three CONCACAF Champions League qualifiers, one USL championship level club, one USL League One member and a partridge in a pear tree will be kicking off spring training at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson.
When it was known as Tucson Electric Park, the big Kino parlor served as the Cactus League home of the Diamondbacks and White Sox and the Pacific Coast League home of the Tucson Sidewinders. This was before the Sidewinders relocated to a nicer ballpark in Reno.
With Cashman Field and venerable Civic Stadium in Portland also having been converted into soccer venues, it has become apparent that old PCL ballparks never die. The grounds keepers just plant grass on the infield and pitcher’s mound and they morph into soccer stadiums.
Infrastructure in place
“I believe that Cashman Field should just not be the home of the Lights,” Lashbrook said about bringing MLS spring training to Las Vegas. “We are the Entertainment Capital of the World, and soccer is the world’s most popular game. There is an absolute match to be made here.”
But what about it already being made in Tucson?
“We are so much better than Tucson, right?” Lashbrook said.
This is where I should point out the average high February temperature in Tucson is 68.5 degrees compared to 63 in Las Vegas. And that “The High Chaparral” was filmed in Old Tucson.
Lashbrook’s counter: About three-fourths of the 24 MLS teams are based in cold-weather cities, and only eight will be kicking around the spotted ball with colored swooshes in Arizona during springtime. That leaves as many as 10 domestic soccer sides without warm-weather practice digs.
Professing to know about such matters, Lashbrook said MLS teams would rather not train in a central location as they will at old Electric Park. Makes it difficult to keep set plays a secret, or whatever.
Well-manicured soccer fields at Sam Boyd Stadium, UNLV and the Bettye Wilson complex would provide seclusion, Lashbrook said. As could the new Las Vegas Ballpark and the Raiders’ training fields in Henderson during down times.
“Nothing would have to be built,” Lashbrook said.
But before MLS teams start bending it like Beckham here, somebody would have to pay.
Lashbrook suggests tourism dollars already being spent in MLS cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago could be reallocated. Instead of buying an ad in the Chicago Sun-Times, he said, the LVCVA could pay for signage at SeatGeek Stadium, home of MLS’ Chicago Fire. In return, the Fire would train in Las Vegas, and in theory bring along some fans with discretionary dollars to spend.
Pat Christenson, Las Vegas Events president, said if he had a nickel for every entity that approached him with an idea on how to reallocate money, he’d be living in a house with a big gate and a butler. He also said he has heard of worse ideas than soccer spring training in Las Vegas.
The NBA Summer League started with only a handful of teams, Christenson said. And look at it now. On the flip side, there’s no data suggesting MLS spring training would grow in the manner of the Summer League, or will attract visitors as the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues have done for decades in baseball.
“My first instinct is that it can’t compare to other spring training events,” Christenson said. “But we’ll consider it.”
If the proposal winds up sailing over the crossbar there’s still Arizona, where the weather is slightly warmer and the tour buses for the Old Tucson movie studio and theme park depart almost every hour.