LOS ANGELES – A beautiful day on a perfect field in a gorgeous new stadium, with a stunning view of downtown past the northeast corner, in front of a rabid fan base that created an atmosphere to die for.
When the 90th minute arrived, it was still scoreless, and there was little to suggest that was going to change. Then a foul, a free kick and captain Laurent Ciman made it count, drilling a wobbling dart that handcuffed Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei en route to the net, and that capped the home team’s long-awaited moment with a bit of magic that nobody present will ever forget.
LAFC (5-2-0) might not have been at their best, at least not on the attack, but there wasn't a whole lot more they could have desired on the day.
“What a stadium, what a crowd,” head coach Bob Bradley started his first postgame media session in the new home. “I've been lucky enough to be in a lot of amazing places around the world, but the feeling inside that stadium today was incredible.
“You get in all kinds of games, but it's nice to not have to inaugurate this incredible new stadium and those fans with a 0-0, so maybe somebody was looking down on us.”
All agreed that the support, especially from the 3252 supporters group's standing area on the north side, was sensational, and rewarding them was a huge priority. Ciman, who scored on a similar free kick a week earlier as LAFC rallied from behind to bury Montreal 5-2, took care of that in the 93rd minute.
“It felt like it was going to be that 0-0 game, and everybody came here for something special, so it was unfortunate in the 90th minute that it was 0-0 and that we hadn't been able to get a goal,” said midfielder Benny Feilhaber, one of two Southern California-bred players in LAFC's starting 11. “Laurent changed all that, and it was the fairytale ending that LA deserved.
“Nothing like a perfect ending for the City of Angels.”
It took a lot to get to that point. LAFC struggled to broach a strong Sounders defense but countered with expert defensive work themselves, especially from center backs Ciman and Walker Zimmerman.
“I think it was our best performance as a backline,” Zimmerman noted. “I thought we were very good at stepping into those half-spaces, being tight to them and kind of not letting them turn and counter us too much.”
The attack wasn't so crisp, with Seattle's physical treatment of Carlos Vela, who was fouled six times, taking a toll. Bradley said he was “yelling about it” to referee Kevin Stott during the first half and that the tactic wasn't “clamped down early enough” by the officials.
Vela saw it differently.
“That's part of the game,” he said. “I'm trying to play good for my team, and they are trying to stop me. It's OK. I like to play like that, but of course it's not the fun way to play. Sometimes you have to play strong, you have to work really hard to win a game, and today was like that. We played really well in the back, defend really well, and we score in the last minute. It was a great team win, and I'm really happy.”