sports:

Las Vegas has the ‘ingredients necessary to support an MLS team’

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Steve Marcus

Las Vegas Lights FC fans celebrate a goal during a game against the Tacoma Defiance at Cashman Field Saturday, April 13, 2019. The Lights shut out the Defiance 5-0.

Mon, Jun 10, 2019 (2 a.m.)

It’s tough miss Fidel Ortiz at the Las Vegas Lights games.

He’s affectionately called “The Argentinian” by other fans because of his roots from Saavedra in Buenos Aires. On this night, he’s wearing an Argentinian national jersey with a Lights cape and hat.

He, like many of the other supporters, are optimistic that talks of turning the minor league Lights into a Major League Soccer expansion franchise comes to fruition. Las Vegas is a great fit, he says.

“It’s going to grow in a way that they don’t even know,” Ortiz said. “This is a raw diamond that needs be polished, and they’re polishing it right now.”

Of course, there’s plenty that needs to happen for Las Vegas to land a Major League soccer franchise — namely, MLS still needs to choose Las Vegas and over other cities vying for presumably the last spot in the league.

But after last week’s City Council vote to enter into an agreement with a developer to remake Cashman Field for the MLS, as well as a separate plan floated by the Golden Knights and owner Bill Foley, momentum is stronger than it has ever been.

That’s good news for soccer junkies like Ortiz who can’t wait to see the country’s top league come to the area. The Lights average about 7,600 fans per game, which is fifth best in the United Soccer League.

“For us it’s more real now,” Las Vegas Lights FC goalie Angel Alvarez said. “If I had been growing up in a town with MLS team, I would have been striving for that my whole life. I would have been supporting the team since Day 1.”

Alvarez, a Las Vegas native, was not an MLS fan growing up. Like many soccer fans, he followed clubs in other countries and didn’t give the MLS much attention. When he was young, you can argue, MLS was a smaller league looked down on by the soccer community.

The prestige of the league is growing, though. Within two years MLS will boast 27 teams, with a stated desire to add three more. First-year Lights coach Eric Wynalda played for San Jose when the league began in 1996 and scored the first goal in league history. He said MLS has come a long way, and that Las Vegas is next frontier for the league.

“Part of my thinking was that I always wanted to be in Vegas of the possibility and potential of this happening,” Wynalda said. “Vegas is a city that has all the ingredients necessary to support a Major League Soccer team.”

Las Vegas is up against Phoenix, Charlotte and Detroit among teams vying for an MLS team, with the expectation that St. Louis and Sacramento will each get a team. It’s stiff competition with each city offering something different.

Las Vegas has become a landing spot for professional sports development in the past two years with unprecedented investment in new teams and facilities — everything from the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on the Strip, to the Raiders in 2020 relocating here to play in a $1.8 billion stadium.

“To me, it represents opportunity to our town,” Alvarez said. “The talent that we have here in Vegas is not going to go to waste anymore. They have something to look up to. A young boy that likes hockey, that likes football, now that likes soccer, they see these pro teams in their hometown so it pushes them automatically to do better and it makes them start dreaming from a young age that they’ll be there one day.”

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