LAFC's christening of Banc of California Stadium about much more than a win
LOS ANGELES -- Bob Bradley was beaming.
His LAFC side had just subdued the Seattle Sounders, 1-0, thanks to Laurent Ciman's stoppage time free kick that should have been saved but wasn't. No matter. On the occasion of the first match being played at Banc of California Stadium, a franchise with considerable Hollywood ties managed to conjure up a Hollywood ending.
"What a stadium, man. What a crowd," Bradley said. "I've been lucky enough to be in a lot of amazing places around the world, but the feeling inside that stadium today was incredible.
"You get in all kinds of games, but it's nice to not have to inaugurate this incredible new stadium and those fans with a 0-0. Maybe somebody was looking down on us."
It was a day of celebration that began with fans packing the north grandstand well before game time. Just before kickoff, LAFC minority owner Will Ferrell carried a falcon named Olly onto the field that took flight and attacked a Sounders emblem. Apparently this will take place before every home match. The match itself was disjointed, though both teams had their share of chances. Steven Beitashour and Walker Zimmerman both had goal line clearances for LAFC, and Marco Urena went close on multiple occasions as well.
But with game headed toward a scoreless draw, LAFC won a free kick, and while Ciman hit his shot with venom, it was also in the path of Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei. It proved to be enough to handcuff the veteran keeper, and as the ball settled into the net, the explosion of joy that had been building inside Banc of California Stadium was finally released. The final whistle blew shortly thereafter and all that was left was to head toward the north end to celebrate the day's events with the 3252 Independent Supporters Union.
About the only item to take a shine off the day was the appearance of the chanted anti-gay slur that accompanied every goal kick. When asked if he was concerned about the chant, MLS commissioner Don Garber made it clear that the chant "shouldn't happen, and it will stop."
"We're not only concerned about it, but it defies everything we stand for," Garber continued.
"I have a lot of faith in the supporters group, I've spoken to ownership during the game, and I have real confidence that it will stop."
Otherwise, the day was filled with off-field victories as well as on. Each part of LAFC could celebrate in its own unique way. This was a franchise that was born out of the ashes that was the failed first attempt to have a second MLS team in Los Angeles, that being Chivas USA.
It's a connection that LAFC's ownership has gone to great lengths to downplay. But memories of fans, and even league executives, are retentive. As much as Chivas USA was a husk of a franchise by its final season in 2014, there were fans that made emotional investments. As time passed, there was a hunger for new connections, but a wariness as well.
"At the time bro, it was really heartbreaking," said Jonathan Gomez, a member of the LAFC supporters group the District 9 Ultras -- a subgroup of the 3252 Independent Supporters Union.
"All the passion, everything we went through for that team, just supporting them whenever we possibly could, then to just lose a team out of nowhere.
"Then a couple of days later they announced this team. The transition it wasn't the easiest thing for me personally. I just stopped watching soccer for a little bit. But a little over two years ago, when I really started getting into LAFC, I got back with the District 9 Ultras and started talking to all of them.
"The passion of this group, words can't describe it. So this day is really big for us. It's a homecoming to us. All the time we spent waiting for this season to open, has finally come and we're ready bro."
That was evident as LAFC's fans congregated outside, kicking the ball around, grilling, dancing to a brass band, and getting their drumming and singing in midgame form.
"We've been waiting all our lives for a team of our own from the city," said Mauricio Fazio, another District 9 Ultras member. "We all come from a culture here in Los Angeles where our parents come from other countries, and the football culture is in our blood.
"It's always been underground, and everywhere we go, we always keep it underground, it's never out in the open. But now we're here in Los Angeles, a beautiful city of diversity and it's wonderful to have a giant group of people together, all of us as one, and from different parts of the city, all coming together.
"It's beautiful to be here and we can't wait to get into that stadium and let the MLS know that we're here forever."
Sunday's event was also a victory for LAFC's ownership. This is a group that has done nothing but execute from the moment it was formed, even as some of the principals changed with Larry Berg, Peter Guber, and Bennett Rosenthal taking over more of the day-to-day operations.
"I think sometimes out of failure comes great strength, and if you really are focused and committed on a good end game -- and I think we've always had a great vision for our league -- then you take a deep breath and try to make some good decisions," Garber said.
"One of the great decisions we made was putting this ownership group together, and trying to move the sport forward."
Bradley, more than most, can appreciate the support from ownership, financial and otherwise. After all, he was the manager of Chivas USA for a solitary season.
"We had some good environments [with Chivas USA]," he said the day before Sunday's match. "I remember a game or two with the Galaxy, but it wasn't our home, and while it worked that year, eventually it didn't even really work.
"But then if you compare that and fast-forward to the vision of this ownership, the commitment privately to fund this stadium, the importance of having it in the heart of the city, and obviously the training facility which we've been in for a few weeks, it just speaks to what has happened in the league, and most of all it's about the ownership and their vision of what they wanted LAFC to be all about."
On Sunday it was about winning, in more ways than one.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.