LAFC’s season of firsts brings the team home for its Southland debut
The players on the Los Angeles Football Club took a dry run Friday through some of the things they’ll have to be prepared for ahead of Sunday’s home opener with the Seattle Sounders.
And it had nothing to with Xs and O’s.
“We did a little walk-through, just trying to figure out how to get here, how to park, how to valet, figuring out traffic,” defender Walker Zimmerman said. “Hopefully we have everything ironed out.”
Wait, did you say the players have valet parking?
“We do,” Zimmerman answered. “We have valet.
“Everything has been provided for us. So our job is simply to focus on winning matches.”
They’ve done a pretty good job of that by winning four of six games on the road to match the best six-game start for an expansion team in MLS history. Now they come home to open Banc of California Stadium, their palatial $350-million facility in Exposition Park, the first open-air professional sports venue built in Los Angeles since Dodger Stadium — and the only one with a pool on the top level.
“You can only open a stadium once,” Zimmerman said of the 6 p.m. game with the Seattle Sounders. “And we want to do it the right way.”
A sellout crowd of 22,000 — including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other elected officials — is expected to provide a raucous environment, especially on the north end where more than 3,200 LAFC supporters with drums and banners will pack a specially designed standing area.
“When we put people and noise and energy and passion in here, it’s just going to be incredible,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said as he surveyed the empty stadium after training Friday.
“Every team wants to get its supporters on its side so that together it becomes a difficult place for opponents. And we have our first chance Sunday. We talked a lot this year about firsts — the first game, the first impression. Now opportunity here.”
Zimmerman said the idea of firsts will be on many players’ minds when they come out for warmups.
“We’re all going to walk out and take a moment just to recognize the significance of what’s going on,” he said. “We will all take time just to look around briefly and really capture it and remember it. It’s a cool thing for us.”
Continuing the theme of firsts, LAFC played the first game in franchise history last month in Seattle, and Diego Rossi scored the team’s first goal in the team’s first victory, a 1-0 win over the Sounders.
They’ll see a different Seattle team Sunday, though, since captain Osvaldo Alonso and defender Chad Marshall, both of whom missed the first game, are back in the lineup.
Last week, Alonso and Marshall played together for the first time this season, with Alonso assisting on the first goal in a 3-1 win over Minnesota United, giving Seattle (1-3-1) its first victory of the season.
LAFC (4-2), which rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat Montreal 5-3 a week ago, is also healthy, though there is some concern over forward Carlos Vela, the team’s leading scorer, who did not participate in training Friday.
Sunday’s game will bring one of the most successful coaching careers in U.S. soccer full circle for Bradley — and not just because it’s a rematch with the Sounders. Bradley’s first professional head coaching job was in MLS with the Chicago Fire, which he guided to a league title in their first season, and his last MLS home game was a dozen years ago with Chivas USA in a playoff win at the Home Depot Center.
Then came a decade in which he wandered the world, managing club teams in Norway, France and England and national teams in the U.S. and Egypt. He coached Egypt during a bloody revolution, playing World Cup qualifiers in empty stadiums and “home” games on the road.
That has helped him keep Sunday’s game — and the valet parking at his team’s new stadium — in perspective.
“Think where I’ve been in my life,” he said. “Think about if you’re in Egypt, playing friendlies in Khartoum, Sudan, whether or not you could give a crap about valet parking. Somebody said to me there’s a pool in here. Who cares?
“Look at the field. Why are we talking about the pool?”
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