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Opinions differ on stability of Las Vegas Lights FC

Updated June 30, 2020 - 9:27 am

On the reason for change, Brett Lashbrook and Eric Wynalda offer views more different than the national soccer teams of Belgium and the United States.

Which doesn’t alter this: Lashbrook as owner of Las Vegas Lights FC, less than two weeks after firing Wynalda as head coach, introduced his fourth manager on Monday in the team’s three years of existence.

For a team that has yet to make the United Soccer League playoffs, that’s notable in a not-so-good way.

“This is 100 percent on me,” Lashbrook said. “It does not reflect well on me. I know we have to get the soccer side right.”

The latest to assume control of instruction, on an interim basis until season’s end, is Frank Yallop. His resume — a former Premier League and Canadian national team player who coached the San Jose Earthquakes to MLS Cups in 2001 and 2003 — more than speaks to his ability.

He won’t need guidance from Cash the Soccer Rocker, the team’s mascot.

Hiring big names hasn’t been an issue for Lashbrook. Being on the same page with them is a different story.

Contrast of opinion

José Luis Sánchez Solá — commonly referred to as “Chelís” — was the first manager in Lights’ history and tremendously popular throughout Mexican football. He also didn’t make it through his first season in Las Vegas, resigning as technical director with six matches remaining and leaving his son (Isidro) to finish out as manager.

Chelís was a disaster. Suspension. Altercations with referees and fans. Smoking in the stands after being ejected. It made for some laughs but not any portrait of professionalism. That’s all on him.

Wynalda, however, is one of the greatest players in American soccer history. Lashbrook couldn’t have found a more respected name to lead a second-division club.

But the specifics of Wynalda’s firing remain a contrast of opinion, although it was primarily about a practice in which players violated league protocols concerning COVID-19.

Lashbrook said Wynalda was present for and ran the workout, that it included more than the maximum 10 players allowed, that it didn’t adhere to social distancing. That players failed to sign liability waivers, that there was no trainer present and more than one allowable coach.

Wynalda insists he arrived before the workout to open a field gate at the public park, reminded players to follow protocol, left to have coffee with his children and only returned at the end of the practice when alerted of possible violations.

“I broke, if anything, a Brett Lashbrook rule,” Wynalda said. “I accept that. It happened on my watch. The (players) were anxious to get back practicing and made some bad decisions. Whether that’s a fireable offense or not doesn’t matter. I have moved on.

“I have no ill will toward Brett. He was very fair to my players, paying them for this full season. He just has a business model that’s not going to mesh with a lot of people. You have to give him credit for having the fortitude for pushing his ideas through. It’s his baby, man, and he’s going to do it his way.”

Stable franchise?

What that means when the season resumes and in the future is unknown. Much like with the dismissal of Wynalda, how financially stable the Lights remains a question.

Lashbrook promotes what he believes is a great fan base in a great soccer market around which is supported by great sponsorship deals and game entertainment. That all is fiscally stable.

But at least two former employees say the franchise is bleeding money and those who have either been laid off over three years and/or are now furloughed because of COVID-19 equal nearly four times available positions.

An agreement remains in place that Lashbrook sell the team to a group led by hedge-fund billionaire Seth Klarman should the latter strike a deal with the city for 62 acres surrounding Cashman Field. It’s a basic sweetheart deal of a land grab for Klarman, who would agree to build a soccer stadium as a way to boost a bid for an MLS expansion team.

Until then, the Lights have introduced a fourth manager (although Isidro Sánchez led for just a handful of games) and their scarf-wearing owner remains as positive a sports figure as there is locally.

“We can do some really, really special things here,” Lashbrook said. “We have the opportunity to get it right. We haven’t yet and I take full responsibility for that. I still believe the sky is the limit.”

It could be. It couldn’t be.

All depends on who’s talking.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.