For local kid, chance to play for Las Vegas Lights makes ditching college worth it

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Matt Thomas competes during a Las Vegas Lights practice on Jan. 29, 2018.

Sat, Feb 10, 2018 (2 a.m.)

Matt Thomas is one semester away from finishing his degree at Rocky Mountain College. But instead of returning to the Montana school for his final few months, Thomas took a calculated risk.

When he learned that a professional soccer franchise was starting in his hometown, Thomas was determined to be part of the team. So he put school on hold and joined 700 other hopefuls at the Las Vegas Lights tryout.

Saturday, his risk will be rewarded: Thomas will be on the pitch at Cashman Field for the Lights’ first game, an exhibition against the Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer.

“I didn’t want to regret anything, so I went out there and just believed in myself,” Thomas said. “I always dreamed of playing professional soccer. The opportunity to do so in my hometown was too good to pass on.”

Thomas, a left wing, didn’t know where his next soccer game would be when he concluded his four-year college career last fall at Rocky Mountain. He tallied six goals and two assists to help the NAIA school to a 16-1-2 record.

He started all of Rocky Mountain’s 18 games and led it in minutes played.

“I’m a workhorse,” he said. “I have a strong work ethic. I’m going to give this everything I have.”

Thomas, a Palo Verde product, is also proven to have a knack for scoring. In the Lights’ intrasquad scrimmage last week, he found the back of the net.

“He’s a young player and he doesn’t have pro experience, but he’s getting it every day, every week,” Lights coach José Luis Sánchez Solá said.

Thomas, of course, still isn’t guaranteed to be with the club in mid-March when it starts play in the United Soccer League. The Lights host MLS teams for exhibition games on three consecutive Saturdays before opening the regular season March 17 at Fresno.

“I am going to work hard in the preseason. After that, it’s up to the coaches,” Thomas said. “This is something I have always dreamed of and I get to do it here."

But when your college career was in a lower-tier classification, having one chance — whether that is against 700 others at an open tryout or in three exhibition games to crack the roster — is all Thomas could have asked for.

“He’s quick and very strong, but he’s learning (within our system). He’s learning the position," Solá said. "At our training, you can see he’s learning the things that are very important in professional soccer.”

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