Lights players huddle before game started Saturday night. Photo credit: Erik John Ricardo

Lights’ First Preseason Match Is A Sellout; Fans Pack Cashman With Flags, Chants, Songs For Inaugural Game

Fans enjoyed waving the flags of the Lights colors. Photo credit: Erik John Ricardo/LVSportsBiz.com

 

By ALAN SNEL

LVSportsBiz.com

 

The Las Vegas Lights pro soccer club made history Saturday night.

 

Yes, the United Soccer League team lost to a superior MLS Montreal Impact club, 2-0.

 

But opening night for the Las Vegas Lights FC’s three-game preseason here at Cashman Field was a sellout and there was a spirit and emotion to the downtown crowd of 10,387 that made Las Vegas feel like a big-time city thanks to the party-like atmosphere in the stadium normally used by a Triple A baseball team. The Lights play two more MLS teams in preseason games Feb. 17 and 24 before their regular season starts in March.

 

Owner Brett Lashbrook told LVSportsBiz.com that, “We’re selling SRO tickets as we speak,” a half-hour before the Lights’ inaugural game.

 

Here’s Lashbrook after the game:

 

Before the game, LVSportsBiz.com hung out with Lashbrook and witnessed fans constantly going up to the owner to congratulate him on the opening night. The stadium that is home to the Las Vegas 51s had no signs of baseball and the Lights’ blue and yellow signage and sponsor signs covered the outfield walls and the spiral walkway walls, too.

Images from tonight.

 

Even though the MLS team from north of the border defeated the Lights, the loss didn’t dampen the crowd. The night’s significance was bigger than a score: pro soccer has a home in downtown Las Vegas.

The Lights players appreciated the crowd and the night’s historic significance. Photo credit: Erik John Ricardo/LVSportsBiz.com

 

Lights player Julian Portugal, who played at UNLV, said he was impressed with the sellout crowd’s spirit and noted when the 11 players huddled before the start of the game, they told each other, “Look at the environment we’re in. It was motivating.”

 

A city came together for a Saturday night of soccer. And a stadium worker said he heard no fights or fan incidents over the radio all night long.

First half action as Lights take on MLS Montreal Impact in first Las Vegas first pro team game. Photo credit: Erik John Ricardo/LVSportsBiz.com

 

“This is a validation of the sport of soccer in Las Vegas,” Lashbrook said.

Mayor Goodman enjoyed the first night of pro soccer in Las Vegas being played by Las Vegas’ own team. Photo credit: Erik John Ricardo’s LVSportsBiz.com

 

Lashbrook said he spent most of the time before the game “putting out fires.” (not literal ones.) He noted, “Anytime you have a new sport in a stadium, there will be things to work out.”

 

Chelis, the colorful coach of the expansion Lights, appeared glum after the preseason loss.

Coach Chelis after the loss.

 

Lashbrook said retrofitting the ballpark for soccer took time. He noted workers spent Friday night using Velcro to attach the sponsor signs on the outfield fence.

 

Patrick Hughes, president of the Fremont Street Experience, told LVSportsBiz.com that the crowd flowing into the stadium was “galvanizing the city.” He shook Lashbrook’s hand and they shared laughs before the game.

Lights owner Brett Lashbrook (right) chats with Fremont Street Experience President Patrick Hughes (left) before the game.

 

And Hughes’ pal, Mathieu Laplante, who is a Montreal native, said it began with the Knights in October and now the Lights were making Las Vegas feel like a big-time city thanks to the pro sports element in the market.

 

“It feels like a city,” Laplante said.

 

Fans were renting giant blue and yellow flags on wooden poles for $20 and they can keep the flags for the two more preseason games and 17 home games that begin in March.

 

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Mayor Carolyn Goodman sat with husband Oscar in the club level and soaked in the scene — a packed Cashman with fans of diverse backgrounds enjoying soccer on a Saturday night in downtown Las Vegas.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman congratulates a Lights player before the game. Photo credit: Erik John Ricardo/LVSportsBiz.com

 

“It was five years in the making,” Mayor Goodman said. She led an attempt to get an MLS team with a subsidized soccer stadium at Symphony Park several years ago, but political opposition on the city council sandbagged the stadium proposal and MLS dropped Las Vegas from consideration when it expanded most recently.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman before the historic first game. Photo credit: Erik John Ricardo/LVSportsBiz.com

 

Lashbrook worked with stadium concessionaire Centerplate to make sure authentic soccer foods were on hand for the hungry crowd.

 

Richard Ginzel, Centerplate’s vice president of operations at Cashman Field, and Paco Gomez, Centerplate GM along with Adam Cotkin, director of retail foods, worked with food trucks to create a tailgate atmosphere outside the stadium. A popular dish was tortas ahogadas — pork soaked in a broth of tomato sauce, oregano and cumin on a roll, Gomez said.

Richard Ginzel (left), Paco Gomez (center) and Adam Cotkin (right) hold soccer food with game in the background at Cashman tonight.

 

And inside the venue, there were tamale dishes and esquite, corn in a cream sauce in a plastic cup.

Paco Gomez, Centerplate’s GM at Cashman Field, said food is part of the soccer culture.

 

“It’s about soccer culture being born in Las Vegas,” Gomez said. “We want to craft an experience. We want a street feel” with the tail gate and food trucks, he noted.

 

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Follow LVSportsBiz.com on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Contact LVSportsBiz.com founder/writer Alan Snel at asnel@LBSportsBiz.com 

 

Alan Snel

Alan Snel brings decades of sports-business reporting experience to LVSportsBiz.com. Snel covered the business side of sports for the South Florida (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel, the Tampa Tribune and Las Vegas Review-Journal. As a city hall beat reporter, Snel also covered stadium deals in Denver and Seattle. In 2000, Snel launched a sport-business website for FoxSports.com called FoxSportsBiz.com. After reporting sports-business for the RJ, Snel wrote hard-hitting stories on the Raiders stadium for the Desert Companion magazine in Las Vegas and The Nevada Independent. Snel is also one of the top bicycle advocates in the country.

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