Francisco Picos stood in a restaurant parking lot a few blocks from Puget Sound, stomping his feet against the Sunday morning chill while simultaneously trying to stamp down optimism for the soccer team he had flown 1,000 miles to watch play.
“My expectations aren’t sky high,” he said. “I want to be reasonable. If we score a goal today, I’ll be happy.”
Six hours later he was more than happy, he was ecstatic. Not only had the Los Angeles Football Club and Diego Rossi needed just 11 minutes to make good on the modest goal Picos had set, but the expansion MLS team went on to exceed those expectations with goalkeeper Tyler Miller’s seven saves making Rossi’s first-half goal stand up for a 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders and the first victory in franchise history.
LAFC are just the fourth MLS expansion team to win its first game, and it was a victory that had been more than three years in the making, dating to the day the franchise was born in a tiny, nondescript movie studio in Hollywood.
For the first 30 months the team had no players, no coaches, no stadium and no uniforms. So it started building its foundation with fans like Picos and the 100 other LAFC supporters who filled a Delta Air Lines flight to Seattle to see the first game.
“This isn't about LAFC's finish. It's about the start of, hopefully, a lifelong relationship with the City of L.A.'s home soccer team and its new and growing community of fans. And to have been there from day one,” Tayfun King said.
The LAFC supporters — about half of whom paraded behind banners and drums on a short but noisy march to the match — spilled out of a 400-seat corner section in the top deck at CenturyLink Field, braving rain, hail and temperatures in the low 40s.
And while that loyalty eventually was rewarded with a win, for most of the chilly afternoon, LAFC’s performance mirrored the dreary, gray Seattle skies.
Coach Bob Bradley had promised his team would play an attractive, possession-oriented attacking game, but that approach lasted less than 25 minutes. Despite playing without national team stars Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey, Seattle outshot LAFC, 22-5, dominated possession and built big leads in both passing and passing efficiency.
So LAFC fought back with a gritty defensive effort, led by Miller and defender Laurent Ciman, who missed most of the preseason with a knee injury but was spectacular in the opener.
“It’s a great win,” said Bradley, who also won his first game with the expansion Chicago Fire in 1998, a team he guided to the league championship that season. “When you’re starting out as a team, you have to learn how to win different types of games. A lot of guys gave big efforts.
“I don’t think we showed football-wise what we are capable of. But that’s only going to get better.”
LAFC’s fast start nearly resulted in an early goal, but Latif Blessing’s first-minute header bounced off the left post. Rossi made up for that 10 minutes later, beating Seattle keeper Stefan Frei with a right-footed shot from the edge of the 18-yard box for the first goal in franchise history. Carlos Vela made it possible, spinning and delivering a perfect feed between the legs of Seattle’s Roman Torres for Rossi, who gathered himself before sending a shot just inside the right post.
“We practiced a lot that play,” Vela said. “Always I take the ball, Diego goes to the goal and I find the space for him. It was a nice play.”
That proved to be LAFC’s only shot on goal.
LAFC led just once, for 40 minutes, against MLS competition in the preseason. But it hung on tight to this lead, with Miller, a former Sounder, matching his career total for saves in one afternoon.
Miller insisted on sharing the credit.
“Everything that LAFC has done over the last three years to put this club together has been amazing,” said Miller, who played in front of his parents for the first time as a professional. “Maybe nobody has high expectations for us but we have high expectations of ourselves.”
Now expectations may change among the fan base.
“I actually felt proud watching them,” King said. “They announced their arrival to the MLS in style. When their first goal went in … was the moment I truly knew LAFC had become my team.
“It had happened. And LAFC remains the only MLS team that has never trailed.”