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Why Edison Azcona’s arrival plants a flag for Las Vegas Lights FC’s new era

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 02/20/24, 8:30AM EST


Talented 20-year-old gives Lights ‘face of the franchise’, signals club’s new model, direction under incoming leadership

Las Vegas Light FC's acquisition of 20-year-old Dominican Republic international Edison Azcona is a marker for things to come under the club's new ownership, led by former Major League Baseball All-Star José Bautista.

The list of reasons can be argued, but there has always been a sense of impermanence about Las Vegas Lights FC’s on-field product.

As the club enters its seventh season, it’s on its eighth head coaching appointment. None of the seven before current Head Coach Dennis Sanchez – including two-time appointee Isidro Sanchez – have lasted more than 35 league games in their time at the helm.

The Lights’ best-known players? They’ve been rentals. Current Tampa Bay Rowdies forward Cal Jennings is the club’s all-time leading goalscorer with 22 tallies, but he was on loan from Los Angeles FC. He’s closely followed by Danny Trejo, also a loanee and now best-known for his exploits with Phoenix Rising FC.

Only four players have made more than 50 league appearances in the club’s colors.

All of that stands as why Las Vegas’ acquisition of 20-year-old Dominican Republic playmaker Edison Azcona stands as the marker for the start of the club’s new era under owner José Bautista and his sporting leadership.

That the Lights – who at the end of last season had precisely zero players under contract – are now prepared to not only acquire a top young talent but on July 1 are set to trigger the club’s option to buy with Inter Miami CF to secure his services full-time speaks volumes to the club’s ambition, both now and in the future.

It’s a new playbook, one Lights Sporting Director Gianleonardo Neglia is quickly putting into action.

“I plan on doing things differently,” said Neglia. “Speaking with José, it was very, very important when I accepted the job offer to come to Las Vegas, I didn't want to do things like a traditional USL club had done in the past and I certainly didn't want to do things in the way the Las Vegas Lights had done things in the past.

“I really wanted to put a project in place here and the opportunity to get a player like Edison is something that frankly, it’s a big deal for us. It really is.”

Neglia arrived in Las Vegas having most recently worked as Assistant Sporting Director at Venezia F.C., a club well-known in North American circles in part due to its striking kit designs and commercial success and as importantly the modern approach to club ownership its American-led leadership has brought in. Featuring 21-year-old United States internationals Gianluca Busio and Tanner Tessmann, the side is currently in a fierce promotion battle in Italy’s Serie B with 13 games to go in the campaign.

With Busio and Tessmann at the lower end of the squad’s age scale, Venezia’s roster is an amalgamation of young talent that can drive the team which also has the potential for upward movement and more experienced players who can serve as long-term fixtures and maintain the standard the club aims to set on the training field and on gameday.

Neglia is aiming to build a similar model in Las Vegas, with a player such as 29-year-old English midfielder Charlie Adams – the first signing secured by the new leadership – the ying to Azcona’s yang. While the 20-year-old Dominican Republic international is the first high-ceiling prospect to arrive this offseason, Neglia’s aim is that others will be part of the Lights sooner rather than later.

Las Vegas Lights FC's Edison Azcona became the first player from the Dominican Republic to score at a FIFA World Cup last year at the U-20 World Cup in Argentina.

“I really want to try and establish a core of six, seven, eight players that are on two-to-three-year contracts that are under the age of 23,” said Neglia. “That will really be the core of this team that the fanbase of this team can identify with. This is our squad. It’s not just a one-year loan for guys and things like that. I think that that’s an important piece of the year for us.”

That model would put Las Vegas firmly in the same class as clubs like Louisville City FC or Orange County SC, both league title winners that have had success in sending younger talent overseas while maintaining a core group that have been the backbone of the locker room. It’s a path Neglia sees for the Lights, starting with Azcona, who is likely to be given a long leash by Head Coach Dennis Sanchez to go a show his qualities on the field this season.

Having bounced between the First Team and reserves at Inter Miami CF in the past year, the opportunity to log consistent minutes in the USL Championship alongside his opportunities to compete for the Dominican Republic at the Paris 2024 Olympics and at the senior level is needed to help take his game to the next level. 

Neglia’s message for Azcona will be clear: “‘You're our guy. Go out there, don’t worry about making a mistake. You’re going to be in there every game.’ I feel like the success he’s had with limited opportunities, you see a lot of potential, and a lot of confidence that in this environment he can really excel.

“I think this market is starving for a winner, and I think a player like that can come here and be the face of the franchise.”

As quickly as Neglia and Sanchez have had to work to pull a squad together ahead of the new USL Championship season – now less than three weeks away – the feeling within the group is the long-term future of the club is bright. In meeting with local businesses and supporters, Neglia has come away with a belief the club can return to the days when upwards of 8,000 fans packed into Cashman Field for games in the first two years of the club’s history.

“In the two weeks that I've been here and going out and speaking to different supporters groups, and meeting with people in the community and meeting with the city, there is such a renewed optimism for this club,” said Neglia. “That’s why I think a signing like Edison – and there are a couple others coming down the pipe that I think are going to be very interesting as well – is really going to change the complexion of how this team is viewed.”

Azcona’s acquisition is a major step in setting those aspirations on the field.

It also makes one thing crystal clear.

For the Lights, this is the new business as usual.

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