By Justin Lafferty/NPSL.com
With the Las Vegas Strip in the background, the Las Vegas Legends made their U.S. Open Cup debut Wednesday night a true showstopper.
In a 3-2 victory, the Legends defeated USL League 2 opponent Park City Red Wolves SC in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup at UNLV’s Peter Johann Field. While Las Vegas dominated the tempo for much of the match, it had to stave off a frantic late effort from Park City.
Wednesday’s win was a statement for the Legends, who joined the NPSL in 2020. Las Vegas will travel to Albuquerque to face the USL Championship’s New Mexico United in second round action.
“We worked for that,” Legends head coach Jose Rivera said. “We’re very happy that we can show that Las Vegas has a huge potential, a lot of quality players and a lot of talent. Today was no exception.”
Aina, the Nigerian center forward, scored off a deflection in the 10th minute to give Las Vegas a 1-0 lead early on. Aina then ran to the far sideline to celebrate in front of his biggest fans — the bright yellow jersey-clad kids he coaches at the Villareal Las Vegas Academy.
“It was what we planned for and what we’ve been working for,” Aina said. “We knew what we could do, and we tried to show it on the field. But at the tail end, there were little kinks we’ve got to work on. What matters is, we got the W. We’ll go to the next round and we’ll work hard.”
In the 35th minute, the Legends increased their lead to 2-0 on a goal by Jesus Gonzales, assisted by Eduardo Guzman. Behind a couple of clutch saves from goalkeeper Hector Casillas, Las Vegas kept Park City at bay through the first half.
The Legends took a commanding 3-0 lead in the 68th minute, thanks to an unassisted goal by Roberto Soto.
“This year, we’ve just bonded more as a family and as teammates; it’s really more like a brotherhood,” Soto said. “That’s what’s brought us together in order to accomplish what we did today.”
However, Park City made it interesting in the waning moments. It wasn’t until the 84th minute of the match that Park City got on the scoreboard. Leonardo Fuchs found the back of the net, off an assist by Walter Ben. Just six minutes later, shortly before the end of regulation, the Red Wolves’ Kevin Jara-Collante cut the Legends’ lead to 3-2.
Officials added four minutes to the end of the second half, and Park City came mere feet from taking advantage of that opportunity. In extra time, Fuchs had a solid look, but his attempt at an equalizer sailed just left of the goal.
The Red Wolves wouldn’t get another shot that night. Yellow smoke and raucous cheering from Las Vegas’ Luz Fuerza supporters group signaled a major victory for the Legends.
Rivera was proud of how his team fought in the first half, but those final minutes surfaced some things that need to be smoothed out before the second round against New Mexico United.
It was an emotional match, especially in the later minutes, as evidenced by Las Vegas’ four yellow cards on the night. Rivera said the team will work on tightening up those miscues and focusing on playing their game as they prepare for the next round.
“In the second half, I believe we got a little bit tired,” Rivera said. “We stopped doing our style in the second half, something that may make us suffer. But I’m very sure that we’ll learn from this, and hopefully in New Mexico, we’ll do what we know how to do and compete.”