Hosting Leagues Cup final elevates profile of Las Vegas in soccer world


Christopher DeVargas

MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman take a selfie during a news conference at the Bellagio for the Leagues Cup Final, Thursday, July 11, 2019.

Fri, Jul 12, 2019 (2 a.m.)

Being the most accomplished footballer to kick-start his international career in Las Vegas, Herculez Gomez can speak with authority about soccer’s “rich history” in the valley.

So, Gomez — standing behind a podium at the Bellagio Thursday, sporting a navy blue suit — began to rattle off the teams ingrained in the city’s soccer lore: Quicksilvers and Dustdevils and, currently, the Las Vegas Lights FC.

Soccer is “in our blood,” said Gomez, highlighting his father who remains involved with the amateur soccer community in Las Vegas. A Las Vegas High School graduate, the younger Gomez is a soccer analyst for ESPN.

With professional sports having a renaissance here, could a Major League Soccer franchise follow?

It’s too early to tell.

But a good showing during the final of the Leagues Cup — a tournament that pits teams from the MLS and the Mexican league, which will host its final at Sam Boyd Stadium on Sept. 18 — wouldn’t hurt, said MLS Commissioner Don Garber during Thursday’s final game announcement at the Bellagio.

The match will be broadcast across North America and have global attention, Garber said. Last time MLS organized a game at Sam Boyd — an international exhibition match between Mexico and Iceland — the 30,617 fans set a record attendance for soccer in Las Vegas.

Organizers hope to surpass the feat.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Mexican league Commissioner Enrique Bonilla, and Fletch Brunelle, vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, joined Garber during the presentation. Satin soccer scarves draped from their shoulders.

Garber said the MLS is hoping to see a great and passionate crowd, along with interest from the media and corporate worlds. The league has had its eye on Las Vegas for quite “some time,” he said, but he’s not sure that that alone would drive the decision to grant Las Vegas an expansion team.

What is true is that MLS has been interested in the city for almost 20 years, he said. As the Vegas Golden Knights succeed, and the Raiders move approaches, league officials are encouraged “more now than ever before.”

Las Vegas has also landed a WNBA franchise, the Aces, and a minor league baseball team still calls the valley home, as do the Lights, a United Soccer League team.

Vying to join the MLS, the Las Vegas City Council last month entered an agreement with a developer to remake Cashman Field into a professional stadium to attract the league. Other cities would be in the running to land the expansion. The current discussions are confidential, Goodman said.

“If soccer is the world’s sport, Las Vegas certainly is the entertainment and tourism capital (of the world),” Goodman said. “And when you put the two of these together, you have an epicenter of excitement, fun and explosive energy.”

Brunelle, the LVCVA marketing executive, said Las Vegas has reinvented itself many times. An event like the cup is important to raise the city’s profile as a sports destination.

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