Las Vegas is experiencing a professional sports boom like no city has ever seen.
In hockey, the Vegas Golden Knights began play in the NHL just this season. In basketball, the city will be getting a WNBA franchise beginning in 2018. In football, it was recently announced that the Oakland Raiders will become the Las Vegas Raiders by 2020.
For soccer fans, though, it is Las Vegas Lights FC, a new club set to join the United Soccer League in 2018, that has them most excited.
From the owner to the head coach, the new club is stocked with personnel with an established MLS and soccer pedigree.
Owner Brett Lashbrook started in soccer as legal counsel and special assistant to MLS Commissioner Don Garber. He later moved to Orlando City SC, and as their Chief Operating Officer, he helped secure both the MLS franchise and the stadium deal in Orlando. His family has lived in Las Vegas for many years, and he is excited about the opportunity to start a team in his adopted hometown.
“This is more special to me because Las Vegas is home…” he said in a recent interview with the Las Vegas Sun. Though he feels well prepared from his experience, “This is the one that has my family’s name on it. This is the one where my mom will be coming to the games.”
At his side in this venture is another experienced expert at soccer start-ups, Vice President of Corporate Partnerships Steve Pastorino. Pastorino was Assistant General Manager to Peter Wilt in the early days of the Chicago Fire, where he helped them secure the deal to build Toyota Park. He actually left the club before the stadium was built to become the first General Manager of the then expansion team Real Salt Lake in 2004. Though he has been out of soccer for a few years, his experience in creating successful franchises will no doubt positively impact the prospects of Lights FC.
The new manager of Las Vegas Lights FC also brings with him an interesting and varied resume. Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, better known as Chelís, was named the club’s first head coach. Chelis had a brief run in MLS as manager of Chivas USA in 2013. He lasted just 12 games with the club, compiling a 3-7-2 regular record. He also managed Puebla, Tecos and Veracruz in Mexico, making him the only manager who will have coached in both the first and second divisions in the U.S. and Mexico. Chelis is known for sideline passion and memorable quotes, and should be an entertaining presence.
Off the pitch, the club is set.
It’s the pitch itself, however, that might be most interesting.
The club is set to start play at Cashman Field, home to baseball’s Las Vegas 51s (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League). Cashman Field has a downtown location, a baseball capacity just over 9,300, and has hosted soccer on a couple of occasions. It hosted pre-season exhibition “California Classicos” between LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes in 2016 and 2017.
Cashman Field is not without its issues, however. The stadium opened in 1983, making it the third oldest stadium in AAA baseball. The facility’s age has caused concern among baseball league executives, with a famous sewage back-up into the dugouts in a 2015 game that forced players to sit on the field highlighting the need for renovations.
In fact, the baseball team has arranged to move out. Las Vegas Ballpark, a $150 million dollar, 10,000-seat will be constructed in nearby Summerlin, and is expected to be the home of the 51s starting in 2019.
The Raiders are also building a new $1.9-billion-dollar stadium, to be shared with the UNLV football program. Las Vegas Stadium broke ground on 62 acres west of Mandalay Bay Casino this fall, and has a completion date of 2020.
As a result, Lights FC will soon have Cashman Field all to themselves, allowing for soccer-specific renovations. The club does not plan to follow the 51s or leave Cashman. The team may play in the stadium mostly as-is this season, but the future holds possibility for tailoring the stadium to the club’s needs.
“We love Cashman,” Lashbrook said in the interview with the Sun. “One hundred percent we would stay in downtown. It’s the heart of the city. This is not a tourism play. This team is for Las Vegas, by Las Vegas, of Las Vegas.”
In fact, Lashbrook thinks the venue will provide an advantage. The field at Cashman will be 80 yards wide. “With 80 yards… we also allow the game to open up,” Lashbrook said. “We’re going to make visiting teams come into the hottest market at the hottest time of the year, playing on the widest field, and play a team built for speed.” He wants the team to reflect the fast, fun, exciting atmosphere that the city is so well known for.
The long-term plan of Las Vegas Lights FC is to make a bid for MLS. “This is a major-league city,” Lashbrook said. “The last 10 teams to join the MLS, six of them started out in the USL. This pathway and blueprint has worked before. We need to show that Las Vegas has an appetite for soccer, which we strongly believe it does.”
In a nod to its MLS ambitions, the club recently announced its first three exhibition matches would be against MLS sides at Cashman Field in February.
Las Vegas has historically been known for its gaming and glitz, and it is rather suddenly becoming a home for professional sports in almost every league.
Soccer’s place in the rapidly developing Vegas sports marketplace lies with the success of Las Vegas Lights FC. With its front office soccer start-up experience, and the potential for renovation in a historic downtown venue to meet its future facility needs, soccer’s place in Vegas should be secure.
This article first appeared in the weekly Soccer Stadium Digest newsletter. Are you a subscriber? Sign up here for your free subscription!