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Lights open season with new coach, players, affiliate

A lot has changed since the Lights FC last finished the COVID-shortened 2020 season with a 2-9-5 record.

Coaching changes have been made, the roster has turned over and the team has added an MLS affiliate for the first time.

All of those changes will be on display Wednesday night, when the Lights make their season debut at the LA Galaxy II.

The fact that the Lights are fielding a team after surviving the pandemic might seem like the first victory. The second-division United Soccer League has seen several clubs fold because of financial issues over the past year, including Reno 1868 FC.

Lights owner and GM Brett Lashbrook said Monday fielding a team was always in the cards.

“We are committed to being in Las Vegas for decades and decades to come,” said Lashbrook, whose team will not play a Cashman Field home game until June 5against the Tacoma Defiance. “The difficulties that we all experienced in 2020 never brought us to that point. We were always committed to coming back in the 2021 season.”

The biggest news of the offseason has been the Lights becoming the USL Affiliate of LAFC of Major League Soccer. LAFC has taken over all sporting operations for the Lights as the team is now housed in Los Angeles and will only travel to Las Vegas for games.

“We’re really optimistic, we’re really excited and we think we’ve found a better model,” Lashbrook said. “LAFC is a class organization. … They have set the bar for American soccer.”

The relationship could do wonders for the Lights in the coming season. The Lights and LAFC have brought in Steve Cherundolo to take over as the head coach. Former coach Eric Wynalda was fired last season after amassing a 12-16-8 record during his time with the club.

This is Cherundolo’s first head coaching stint at the pro senior level after serving as an assistant for Germany’s 15-U national team as well as Hannover 96 and Stuttgart in the Bundesliga in recent years.

Cherundolo, who was hired in March, had a 17-year playing career for Hannover 96 and an impressive U.S men’s national team track record, making appearances in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 FIFA world Cups.

“It’s been a quick transition,” Cherundolo said. “We are excited to start the season, we are ready to start the season. It’s a new team so there are some growing pains, but we are optimistic.”

The Lights roster has been turned over this offseason. No players from the 2020 squad are returning.There are only 12 players on the Lights’ official roster, so look for them to bring players in on loan from LAFC.

“My goal in the offseason was to improve roster spots one through 18,” Lashbrook said. “And I think partnering with LAFC and being able to work with their loan players has immediately done that for us.”

This is a young Lights roster with talent that Cherundolo thinks he can mold.

“We’ve been at it for six weeks now and I already see the growth and development,” Cherundolo said. “So, if we start thinking forward towards the end of the season, I think we’ll be very happy with how this team and all the (players) involved turn out.”

Contact Aidan Subira at asubira@reviewjournal.com.

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