“This is not a joke,” promised Will Ferrell back in 2016 when introduced at the LAFC ownership press conference. The third Major League Soccer team in Los Angeles finally had its home debut this Sunday, and a joke is not a word that could describe the event.
The Banc of California Stadium, built across the street from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, was the host for the first home game in LAFC history. It also happened to be the first event held in the $350 million stadium.
I was lucky enough to be there, and my high expectations were not only met, they were topped.
The stadium itself is beautiful. The white arched coverings keep the 22,000 seat stadium feeling cozy, and attached to the action on the pitch. The stadium is exactly the right size, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. The seats aren’t 100% comfortable, but compared to the Coliseum and Dodger Stadium seats, they’re perfectly acceptable. The supporters section, which is on the north goal’s side, have a high-back vertically folded seat, a genius idea that allows for ease of standing in the aisle, which is good since there wasn’t much sitting going on there.
The 3252 is the LAFC supporters club, and they destroyed any myth that LA isn’t a soccer city. The members began marching on Exposition Park Drive at 4:30 p.m., two hours before kickoff. From that time until fans streamed out of the stadium at 9:05 p.m., there was not a millisecond that the 3252 stopped the banging of the drums.
The supporters were aided by the great food that the Banc of California Stadium offered. The way that the stadium designed its gastronomical options was perfect. There were five or six specialty stands that each had two unique items, along with candy and drinks. The winners of Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race,” Seoul Sausage, had a stand offering two types of street dogs. The Rotisserie offered a dressed chicken Shawarma and Pita chip nachos, creative twists on boring stadium food. The most popular options seemed to be a BBQ shop that was serving plates of smoked pork and beef with mac and cheese.
The setup for food is genius. The stadium placed specialty vendors around the perimeter, and didn’t have more than two of the same stands. This approach is fresh when compared to the other LA stadiums. The Dodger Stadium model of having the two upper decks sharing the similar plain hot dogs and processed nachos translates to a poor fan experience with mediocre food. Having only one or two locations in the stadium helps these specialty vendors bring in better ingredients and create a better product, since they don’t need to bring in a massive amount of products. The results can be seen by the drastic differences in quality at Dodger Stadium and Banc of California Stadium.
Entering and departing the stadium is just as convenient as the food situation. The tickets are scanned manually by the fans before entering a turnstyle, which is easily removable if broken. The absence of ignorant/inexperienced employees, a major problem at Dodger Stadium, is a notable improvement to the LAFC experience. Leaving the stadium was easy, since all the gates remained open and they lead directly to the downtown LA streets. The Stadium is literally in the middle of LA’s streets, a welcome change from the Galaxy’s StubHub Center, which is in the middle of nowhere, no offense to the good people of Carson.
The excellence of the LAFC enterprise also translated to the pitch. Former U.S. and Egyptian national team manager Bob Bradley has clearly implemented his style on the club. However, the in-game change of switching winger Omar Gaber to the left side after having success allowed for forward Diego Rossi to create chances on the right after rotating. The first half was drab for LAFC, as Rossi and superstar Carlos Vela couldn’t get the ball past Seattle keeper Stefan Frei. It took a bailing out by capitan Laurent Ciman in the 90th minute to score the lone goal via free kick, clinching a 1-0 win for Los Angeles.
The LAFC organization has done a fantastic job over the past 3-4 years planning for a perfect experience for their fans, and they delivered just that. The thoughtfulness they showed on Sunday was reciprocated by the fans who showed that LA is the spot for soccer.