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LOS ANGELES — In the span of just five days, it was over just like that.
After years spent crafting and executing the plan of bringing a team to the heart of Los Angeles, it was an abrupt end to LAFC’s inaugural Major League Soccer campaign. With the top seed in the Western Conference up for grabs in the final game of the 2018 regular season, Los Angeles lost at Sporting Kansas City and watched a coveted first-round bye turn into a knockout match.
LAFC lost that match to Real Salt Lake, with an own goal being the decisive factor, but the Black and Gold still tallied an expansion-record 57 points and played an entertaining brand of soccer in their opening chapter.
The club’s first home game at Banc of California Stadium last April was a perfect Hollywood script, a tight affair capped by a winning goal from then-captain Laurent Ciman in stoppage time.
Four months later, Bob Bradley’s squad is ready to continue the journey in Year 2. And this home opener felt much like that one.
Substitute Adama Diomande slipped past Graham Zusi and blasted the winning goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time, giving LAFC a 2-1 win over 10-man Sporting KC, who lost Roger Espinoza to a red card in the 84th minute.
Diomande called it the biggest moment of his MLS career. It happened to be Bradley’s 61st birthday, marking the first time he has ever won a game on the day he was born. It’s almost too perfect how it all worked out:
The thing is, the premise of this franchise was as L.A. as it could get from the very start. There was the decision of where to break ground on a stadium, right beside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with a spectacular view of the downtown skyline. There were the names involved with club ownership from the beginning – actor Will Ferrell, basketball Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson, U.S. Soccer legend Mia Hamm.
The brass’ vision was simple: make an instant impact. While the celebrities caught the attention of outsiders, locals were just ready to support a team right in their own backyard. The Galaxy have been here since 1996, but Carson is a decent little drive down the 110 freeway.
That’s why the 3252, LAFC’s supporters group named after the seating capacity in the north side of the stadium, has been such a driving force of this movement. The franchise, long before it even played a game, reached out to fans around the city to include them in assisting the creation of the club. The sentiment is what connects the fans so intensely to the franchise.
“With LAFC, you have them coming to the supporters and trying to build a culture around our community,” said Jimmy Lopez, president of the 3252.
The dedicated group runs the show at the stadium. They’re in the parking lot as early as 9 a.m. They’re in the stadium setting up flags and drums two hours before the start of the game. And for the full 90 minutes, they’re committed to giving 100 percent in the stands to motivate the other thousands in attendance, and more importantly the 11 men on the field.
“The fan base has been incredible from day one. They’re there for us and we love it,” Bradley said. “What they put out there every single game is just unbelievable. That part of it is so special. We continue to have that first-game feel every time.”
Confidence and style are at the core of what LAFC is trying to establish. As MLS fan bases continue to grow, Los Angeles is creating an atmosphere that mirrors the passion felt for the game around the world.
“Pure heart. The team, fans and front office wanted it. We’re very proud of what we did and what we accomplished,” Lopez said about last year. “Now season two, we’re hungry and aiming for the cup. I know everyone says that, but there’s a different vibe in the air.”
The Black & Gold are no longer the newest team in MLS; that distinction now belongs to FC Cincinnati. But as the franchise looks to add glory to its gusto, there is no doubt what the aspirations are. LAFC is shooting for the stars and wants its product to dazzle the soccer world in the United States.
After all, this is Los Angeles. What else would you expect?
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