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LOS ANGELES — Any LAFC fan that entered through the Southeast gate at Banc of California Stadium for Sunday’s game against Inter Miami CF was greeted by an unfamiliar sight.
The color pink immediately stood out. There were flags and scarves waving with close to 100 visiting fans chanting ahead of Inter Miami’s inaugural MLS match. A full 80 minutes before kickoff, hailing from over 2,000 miles away from South Florida, the Inter fans asserted their presence.
After taking over a local restaurant, the Vice City 1986 supporters group helped lead a march down W Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. with flares, smoke bombs, drums. Even legendary owner David Beckham was present to take a picture with the crowd, which channeled a futbol atmosphere similar to that in South America.
“[LAFC president] Tom Penn said this is the best away crowd that they’ve had,” said Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, who was on hand for Miami’s historic moment. “Speaks to this growing culture that we’re having … it’s probably the thing that we’re proudest of.”
In just a few years the Banc has hosted some formidable fanbases. Just recently, León fans scattered their green shirts around the stadium for a CONCACAF Champions League match. This preseason supporters of Uruguayan giant Peñarol took over the South end of the stadium. In last season’s Western Conference Final, Seattle had a good contingent. But teams from across the country don’t typically flock here in that manner, with that energy.
“They were amazing, to travel all the way from the East coast to L.A. and be able to show that kind of support,” said former LAFC player Lee Nguyen. “You could see all the pink in that corner over there and it was amazing. We felt that and we hope they know we appreciate them for that.”
Across the stadium Beckham enjoyed the match in a suite accompanied by Gordon Ramsay, flashing their pink Inter Miami scarves and towels. Regardless of the 1-0 loss to LAFC, the boss had to be satisfied from what he saw in the franchise’s first game ever. Robbie Robinson, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, displayed his ability to create. Highly touted Mexican signing Rodolfo Pizarro was everything you’d hope for from a No. 10, sans a goal or assist. Experienced keeper Luis Robles was top-notch and stopped 10 of the 11 shots he faced. That chip from Carols Vela was just too pretty and impossible to reach.
But holding the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners to one goal at home isn’t something that typically happens.
“[I learned] that we have a lot of heart, a lot of fight, and that’s going to be required to make it through the season and really have success,” Robles said. “We can put together all the quality and if there’s no fight in that quality, then it’s not going to be a successful team.
“It’s great to have that sort of support. We want to play for them and make them proud. Felt like we did a decent job of doing that today and it’s only going to get better.”
The result was less important for Inter Miami than the culmination of a project that started back in 2014 when Beckham exercised his option to become an owner. From that very moment, interest grew from the league and fans everywhere.
It’s not surprising. Location is one thing, but a figure like Beckham attracts interest worldwide. That’s why the South American influence is felt in the core of Miami’s aficionados. “La Copa del MLS vamos a traer,” they cheered, promising an MLS Cup. But there are non-hispanics that feel as much of a part of the culture.
Eric Thomas from New Jersey is proudly one of those people. He stood in the last row of section 217 and waved the Southern Legion supporters group flag before the game. With family down in South Florida, he’s been following along since Beckham’s announcement in 2014.
“We’re hardcore supporters of David Beckham, his dream and Inter Miami,” Thomas said. “Regardless of the outcome of today’s game, we feel great of even being here.”
Richard Bailey, who grew up in Miami and now lives in Las Vegas, didn’t have to travel as far for the spectacle in L.A. He would’ve liked to attend Miami’s home opener on March 14 but already has a unique obligation. His son Zico is a defender for FC Cincinnati, and they host their home opener the same day.
Bailey laughed when asked about rooting for a team other than Cincy.
“No, we haven’t brought it up,” he said. “Guess I’m going to have two. I will be supporting [Miami] forever. This is my team now.”
Inter is in for a spectacular home debut itself, hosting the Los Angeles Galaxy — the team Beckham helped grow vs. the one he’s constructing from the ground up.
The Galaxy have won MLS Cup more times than anyone else. Lofty expectations are taking shape at Miami, too.
“From the ownership group down to the coach and players, this is a team with ambition and big goals,” Nguyen said. “They didn’t build this team to just be a part of this league. We want to compete, win trophies and make history with Miami. That’s the goal from day 1.”
The product on the field will benefit from the support off it. Atlanta and LAFC proved how fans can help lift expansion teams to immediate success. Miami is hoping to see the same.
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