Coronavirus shutdown dampens spirits of dedicated Galaxy and LAFC fans
Mark Villa has been a Galaxy season-ticket holder so long that the fans who sat near him in section 132 watched him transition from a young newlywed into a middle-aged father and saw his two sons grow from newborns into teenagers.
“My oldest was eight months old at Beckham’s first game,” said Villa, whose seats are on the east side of Dignity Health Sports Park. “I’m trying to make formula one-handed while cheering and trying to cover his ears with the other hand.”
That was one of more than 250 games Villa attended over the last 17 years, through sickness and health, in good times and in bad, during championship seasons and last-place finishes.
The iron-man streak came to an end this year, stopped by a virus that has forced Villa, 50, to transition from a midfield seat in the grandstand to the middle of a sofa in Van Nuys.
“It’s been really strange. I knew I was going to miss it,” he said.
“Am I gutted? Absolutely. But it’s par for the course with what’s going on right now. It’s a necessity that we’re not there.”
The Vancouver Whitecaps, currently located in Portland because of the pandemic and fires, are headed to Los Angeles to take on LAFC.
Although a handful of MLS teams are allowing small, socially distanced crowds to attend their matches, the Galaxy and LAFC will play before empty seats and faux crowd noise for the rest of the season. Both teams will be in Southern California on Sunday, with the Galaxy playing host to the reigning MLS champion Seattle Sounders and LAFC facing the San Jose Earthquakes in games their fans will have to watch on TV.
That’s given a new meaning to the term “home game.”
“The greatest sporting event to go to live in Los Angeles, and maybe in the United States, [is] an LAFC game,” said Chris Moore, 51, who will cheer from his apartment in Pasadena instead of his seat in section 127 at Banc of California Stadium.
“I just can’t go right now until we have a solution to the COVID crisis.”
The Galaxy averaged more than 23,750 fans a game over the last four years. LAFC, which has the highest ticket prices in MLS by a wide margin, hasn’t played an MLS home match before an unsold seat since entering the league in 2018. For many of those fans, the games are as much a social event as a sporting one.
Sarah Hall, a physical therapist from South Pasadena who has been attending Galaxy games with her father, Cary, since the team played in the Rose Bowl, says missing the weekly trips to Carson has left a big hole in her life.
“I’ve read more books this year than ever,” said Hall, 39. “It’s hard to put into words really. Having to watch from home has been pretty hard because a lot of the fun is interacting with the friends we’ve made at the games.”
Karla Lima agrees. A season-ticket holder since 2009, she typically would make the 160-mile road trip from her home in Murrieta to the Galaxy’s stadium in Carson by herself. The coronavirus has taken that away.
“It’s been frustrating. That’s my one day a week that I enjoy,” said Lima, an electrical engineer whose leisure wardrobe consists largely of Galaxy jerseys. “I get to talk to people that live on the other side of my city. Some people come from San Diego, from Lancaster.
“I make new friends.”
But Lima’s fear of contracting COVID-19 has kept her mostly indoors since early March, when the Galaxy played before home fans for the only time this season.
Others can’t stay away. Before the Galaxy’s last home game, a small group of fans gathered on a sidewalk outside the stadium and cheered the players as they entered the parking lot.
Another three dozen made the trip to Utah for last Wednesday’s game with Real Salt Lake, one of five MLS teams allowing a limited number of spectators to attend games.
A league-mandated 10-day quarantine period for returning players on LAFC and Galaxy could leave teams short-handed during a crucial stretch.
No one can be sure when the Galaxy or LAFC will be able to allow fans back to the seats many have owned for a decade or more.
“We kind of bonded with the regulars. So I’ve really missed that and I don’t know if that will ever come back like it was,” said Cary Hall, 68, a retired teacher whose two season tickets are six rows behind the Galaxy bench. “I think it’s going to be years until this virus is really gone.”
Despite those prospects, Hall declined a refund and rolled his 2020 season-ticket money to 2021. So has Villa, who heard a few people aren’t planning to come back.
“Everyone there watched my kids grow up. So it really was family,” said Villa, who has sat in the same area of the stadium since 2005. “My youngest was 3 weeks old at his first Galaxy match. I held him up like the Lion King when the players walked out.
“It’s a fun thing to do on a Saturday night. I’m an adult. I can’t go to keggers anymore without being really creepy.”
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