LOS ANGELES — A city accustomed to red carpet events rolled another one out Wednesday at Banc of California Stadium.
What’s been expected for some time now is finally official – with 68 points from 32 matches, LAFC are winners of the 2019 Supporters’ Shield. The first trophy in club history, just two years into its existence, was paraded and soaked in champagne well into night.
The award, given to the team with the best MLS regular season record, is the true testament of a group effort. That collective unit extends beyond players and coaches to the medical staff, fans, workers at the stadium and training facility.
The banner above the 3252 supporters section that read “stronger together” was apt. Everyone that had a part — past and present — in the club felt gratified.
Take former LAFC striker Christian Ramirez, who was back in Los Angeles for the first time since being traded in August to the Houston Dynamo, for example. Despite being on the losing end of the 3-1 result, mostly everybody in a black jersey rushed toward him at the final whistle to share hugs and words of encouragement. No less than half hour later he was back on the field in regular clothes taking group pictures with the trophy he contributed to throughout the season.
“We’ve always tried to have a team that everybody could feel part of,” said manager Bob Bradley. “To win the first trophy here, especially that it’s the Supporters’ Shield because we feel so strongly about our supporters, that’s pretty damn special.”
“We are proud of the team and I hope this is just the beginning of something really cool this year,” added star Carlos Vela. “We will work hard.”
Then he paused quickly to catch himself.
Minutes later Vela was mobbed in the middle of the press conference by most of his teammates, drinks in hand, cheering and basically forcing him to head back into the locker room. Steven Beitashour tried to stay behind and answer some questions, but Jordan Harvey eventually got to him, too.
“As much as I talk about football, as much as I see little details and things that for me are so important, I also know the human part,” Bradley said. “I know the part when there’s a group that everybody is part of something that’s bigger than any one of them.
“To see all of those guys celebrate together and to know how much it means to all the supporters that have been there from day one, that part is special. I was just excited to see how happy the players were.”
Nobody really wanted to speak about the actual match, which snapped a five-game winless skid for LAFC. Diego Rossi’s diving go-ahead header in the 70th minute and Eduard Atuesta’s curling free kick put the stamp on the Shield.
But when the headaches finally wear off and the smell of champagne fades, LAFC must get back to work. There’s a quick turnaround as they travel to Minnesota for a Sunday tilt that could have major implications on seeding under their top spot in the Western Conference. Then they close out the regular season by hosting Colorado on Decision Day, which is Oct. 6.
LAFC is four points away from breaking the record last year’s Red Bulls set for the most single-season points in MLS history. And Vela, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic looming in the shadows, is a pair of goals shy of passing Josef Martinez’s mark (31) as MLS’ single-season scoring leader.
Other celebrations may beckon, but Wednesday might be tough to top. It’s not to suggest Supporters’ Shield means more to LAFC than winning MLS Cup, but if you consider the path to both, one is a lot more unique. Anything can happen in the playoffs, as LAFC knows from last year's first-round upset.
Players have often talked about how it seems like the regular season and postseason are two separate tournaments. And while the Black and Gold still have lofty playoff expectations, the Supporters’ Shield will always remind the club of a big moment regardless of what happens in October or November.
“I’m not talking about that,” Bradley said, when asked about prioritizing MLS Cup and the Shield. “That doesn’t take away from how we feel tonight that we were able to win the first trophy in the club’s history, and do it here at the Banc in front of our supporters. We’ll celebrate this and then we’ll turn the page.”
One down, one to go.
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