OKLAHOMA CITY – With both OKC Energy FC and Las Vegas Lights FC sitting outside the top eight in the USL Western Conference standings going into Wednesday night’s USL Game of the Week on ESPNews (8 p.m. ET | Match Center), there’s a serious level of urgency for both to pick up all three points and close the gap on eighth-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.
Here are five reasons to tune into the clash at historic Taft Stadium on Wednesday night.
An eight-game losing streak after opening the season with a victory gave OKC Energy FC a massive hole to dig out of to earn a fourth consecutive trip to the USL Cup Playoffs, but the side is now undefeated in its last five games (3-0-2) to give itself a glimmer of hope of a postseason berth. That four-week undefeated streak has move the side back within seven points of the Switchbacks, which means another victory on Wednesday night is going to be critical to the club’s playoff hopes.
While this game won’t be played at Cashman Field, which means we disappointingly won’t get llamas in the team photo, Las Vegas has put together a squad that has been boom or bust for much of the season, but has entertained come what may. There are names you know here, most notably former U.S. international Freddy Adu, but also players like former LA Galaxy Homegrown signing Raul Mendiola, who scored this Saturday in Lights FC’s victory against Saint Louis FC, veteran forward Sammy Ochoa, who scored four goals and two assists in June, and goalkeeper Riccardo Ferriño, whose proclivity for joining the play himself has drawn buzz online this season.
OKC Energy FC may be undefeated since the start of Week 14, but its defense has had to be among the best in the league to keep it that way over the past four weeks. Since June 12, no side has conceded more total shots than Energy FC’s 88, an average of 17.6 shots per game against. Energy FC may have allowed only four goals over its past five games, but Lights FC is likely going to get chances it will want to take advantage of as it looks to claim a big road victory.
There are some excellent creators in the USL these days, current co-assist leaders Antoine Hoppenot of Reno 1868 FC and Emmanuel Ledesma of FC Cincinnati among them, but there’s a certain style to the game that Las Vegas Lights FC’s Carlos Alvarez and OKC Energy FC’s Jose Barril bring that makes them great fun to watch as they pull the strings from midfield. Both players are adept at creating angles and chances that might not be there for others, with Alvarez having created 20 chances from open play this season and Barril right behind him on 19. With two teams that like to play up-tempo soccer, the calming influence of both helps the sides connect the dots in the final third and will be a facet of the game to enjoy.
When the ESPN lights went on in 2017, OKC Energy FC’s Miguel Gonzalez was ready to step into the spotlight. From his amazing bicycle-kick finish against Sacramento Republic FC in the opening USL Game of the Week a season ago to his dramatic late equalizer against San Antonio FC last July at Toyota Stadium, Gonzalez has had a knack for producing something special on national television. The 27-year-old has had a slow season so far in 2018 with only one goal in 13 appearances, but you shouldn’t bet against some more magic if he gets a chance against Lights FC.