The Los Angeles Football Club defeated Seattle Sounders FC, 1-0, Sunday evening in the first game played at Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park, with defender Laurent Ciman scoring on an approximately 30-yard free kick three minutes into stoppage time in the second half.
The goal prompted some fans in the “The North End” Supporters Section to set off devices emitting black and gold smoke, representing the team’s colors.
The Supporters Section features what the team describes as the first safe standing rail seats in North America, allowing fans to stand shoulder-to-shoulder.
Many in the sold-out crowd announced at 22,000 wore black and shook thick gold foil and chanted “F-C L-A” during much of the game, accompanied by a beating drum.
“There was a lot of excitement … and every player felt it,” said Ciman, who played for Belgium in the 2014 World Cup.
Actor Will Ferrell, one of LAFC’s owners, marked the start of the game by releasing a falcon from midfield.
Attendee John Papachristos, a restaurant owner from Downey, called his experience “beyond excellent,” citing the facilities, ease of access to the stadium and parking.
Papachristos’ 17-year-old son Greg, a midfielder with the Irvine-based youth club Strikers FC, told City News Service his experience was “awesome.”
Banc of California Stadium, on the former site of the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, has an intimate atmosphere with the steepest seating bowl in Major League Soccer, 34 degrees, and seats 12 feet away from the sideline.
The $350 million project includes a large public plaza, restaurants, LAFC retail store and a conference and events center planned to be in use 365 days a year.
In addition to LAFC games, the stadium will be a site for concerts, beginning June 2 with the pop music festival Wango Tango, and soccer during the 2028 Olympics.
The stadium includes what MLS commissioner Don Garber called “the largest directors box in professional sports … It’s quintessentially Los Angeles.”
LAFC’s ownership group also includes basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson; soccer legend Mia Hamm-Garciaparra and her husband, Nomar Garciaparra, a former Major League Baseball star; and life coach Tony Robbins. They were all at the game.
The crowd also included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, CBS late-night host James Corden, “The Price is Right” host Drew Carey, a Seattle Sounders FC owner, and rapper Ty Dolla $ign.
Construction of the stadium took 20 months. It is the first open-air stadium to be built in Los Angeles since Dodger Stadium was completed in 1962.
When asked at halftime why a stadium was built for LAFC, instead of it playing at StubHub Center, the Los Angeles Galaxy’s home about 12 miles south in Carson, Garber said, “Every sports team needs their own home. This is the best example of it. They have their own fans, they have their own location.”
Garber also praised Philip Anschutz, chairman of AEG, the Galaxy’s parent company, “to have the commitment to bring in a competitor, understanding that competitor would raise the water level for the entire league.”
“It’s early — they’re in the first season, it’s the first game — but ultimately, I think all the owners believe that two teams in L.A., in their own stadium is what we’re going to need to lift this sport up to achieve our goals,” Garber said.
Banc of California Stadium is the 16th soccer-specific stadium in the 23-team league, with two more under construction.
“I’ve toured it a couple of times and every time I’m in it, I get more and more impressed with it,” Garber said. “It’s fantastic. It’s really spectacular. It’s everything that we hoped it would be, and I think it’s everything our league needed.”
On the field itself, Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said LAFC forward Marco Urena impeded goalkeeper Stefan Frei’s view on Ciman’s goal.
“As he runs across, he ducks like this, it goes right over the back and Stefan couldn’t get a clean look at it,” Schmetzer said after his team’s record dropped to 1-4-1, remaining in last in MLS’ 12-team Western Conference. “Normally that’s a save Stefan would make all day long.”
LAFC led in shots, 14-13, while Seattle led in shots on target, 6-4. LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller made four saves, two in each half, for his third shutout in seven games this season. Frei made three saves.
“You get in all kinds of games, but it’s nice to not have to open this incredible new stadium in Los Angeles with a zero-zero,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said after his team’s record improved to 5-2-0, the best start among MLS’ 16 expansion teams. LAFC moved into second place in the Western Conference with 15 points, two behind Sporting Kansas City, which has played two more games.
“My favorite part was just walking out there at the beginning. It was awesome. I talk often about if you want to be a team that can play football, you have to have a great field. The field was incredible, it was wet, the ball moved, but at the end we also weren’t shaken.”
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