LOS ANGELES – “We will go undefeated in our inaugural season. I don’t know how hard that is to do, but we have a pretty good chance. And if not, you can come up and tackle me in the parking lot, OK?”
LAFC co-owner Will Ferrell drew the laughs after jokingly laying down the gauntlet during his club's stadium groundbreaking event on Tuesday, but it was the stadium project that was the star on the day.
LAFC’s home will be called Banc of California Stadium, as a naming rights partnership was announced during the event, something lead managing owner Larry Berg said was “the largest sponsorship in the history of MLS” and vowed will be “the most impactful in MLS as well.”
A collection of LAFC owners, local politicians – including Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti – MLS commissioner Don Garber and US Soccer president Sunil Gulati joined the supporters and media in attendance in watching or lifting their gold-plated shovels to break ceremonial ground on the project, which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2018.
But first, the LA Sports Arena will need to be torn down, as the new soccer-specific stadium will be built on the site, located next to the LA Coliseum. As Garber noted, it will be Major League Soccer's 20th facility built or renovated with soccer in mind.
And in the course of any such large construction project, nailing down an opening date nearly two years ahead of time is next to impossible.
“We’ll see how they do with the project,” LAFC president Tom Penn told reporters after the groundbreaking. “We’re on target for spring of 2018. This is an uncertain project, a lot has to go right, but God willing it will, safe and on time.”
Garber discussed the evolution of stadium projects for MLS as a whole over the past 20 years, and how they’ve gone from nonexistent to vital.
“When the original business plan came together, there was no plan for soccer stadiums,” he told reporters. “That was only 20 years ago. They thought that MLS would play in everybody else’s large buildings as a secondary tenant.
“Billions of dollars in investment and lots of support from public figures to help bring this sport to communities – it’s what’s transformed our league.”
What’s next on LAFC’s to-do list? Certainly construction and the stadium project will play a major role into 2018, but Penn noted that the expansion team’s next options include the search for a training facility.
Although recent reports had linked the club with a site in Tustin, located in Orange County, Penn said talks were ongoing with other locations and ultimately, he thinks the training facility “will be in Los Angeles.”