LAFC’s home opener was everything it was hoped to be, that is to say it went absolutely how no one would have expected it to go. The game was a complete sell out, as all 22,000 seats were filled with eager fans awaiting the launch of their team.
The evening seemed picture-perfect, with a kickoff temperature of 70 degrees, and the game was destined for the history books regardless of what would play out on the field. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Curren Price opened the match with the ceremonial coin toss. Comedian and team co-owner Will Ferrell, who was absent at the ribbon cutting ceremony last week, was on hand, (or more accurately), had a falcon in hand to start the opening day festivities. One falcon will be chosen for a pregame flight at center pitch as a match day ritual, the falcons will take flight and hunt a lure of the match opponent’s crest, as explained on the LAFC website. This falcon, named Olly made the inaugural home flight, quickly becoming a fan favorite as she glided around the stadium awing the crowd. Soon after, two navy paratroopers caressed the wind in their chutes, as they floated down onto the pitch with grace and purpose.
Then came the singing of the national anthem, lead uniquely this time by LAFC’s flagship supporter group the “3252.” The national hymn started out barely audible, but soon engrossed the entire crowd in a wave of sound as the entire stadium began to intermittently chime in with their voices, creating a hauntingly beautiful moment within the backdrop of a seemingly divided nation. Then, the match commenced with the blow of the referee’s whistle.
The game itself was hard fought, yet nothing in the action was particularly noteworthy, as even the players themselves acknowledged the choppy pace of play, largely due in part to Seattle’s strategy in quelling the play of LAFC star Carlos Vela, the talisman and creative outlet of the team.
“Yeah, I think all the people were waiting for this moment, I think it was a great, great day,” said Vela. “Of course maybe the game was not the most ‘divertido’ [fun] to watch but in the end, we win, so everyone was excited and enjoyed it.”
The Black and Gold were prepped for a ferocious Sounders team, still licking their wounds from the loss suffered at the hands of LAFC in their home opener a few weeks ago. For the majority of the match however, neither LAFC nor the Sounders could figure one another out, as they traded blow for blow without scoring nearly the entire match. It looked as if the game was destined for a stalemate, and LAFC was going to have to accept a draw and a one point result for their historic home opener. However, fortune seemed to be smiling on LAFC as the moment rose to the occasion in fantastic manner.
In the 93rd minute, LAFC won a free kick 35 yards out from goal. The club’s Belgian captain Laurent Ciman, who had recently scored from a similar spot in their last game, positioned to take the kick. The stadium was all but silent, all bets were off as nothing is promised in the game of football. The referees’ whistle blew for procession, and with a swift kick, the ball zoomed straight to Seattle’s goalkeeper Stephen Frei, who nine times out of ten, makes a routine save. However, on this occasion, LAFC was charmed by its guardian angels (“Los Angeles,” if you will), as Frei committed a gaffe he will be replaying in his head for weeks to come. The stadium erupted in a deafening, jubilant tone. LAFC finally had its storybook beginning, one that could not have been scripted with more serendipity by neither Hollywood elite nor best-selling author.
“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,” voiced LAFC coach Bob Bradley. “You get in all kinds of games, but it’s nice to not inaugurate this incredible new stadium and the fans with a 0-0 [scoreline], so maybe someone was looking down on us.”
It was the final play of the game, and what a moment of magic to commemorate LAFC’s inclusion in Los Angeles sports lore.