LOS ANGELES – On Tuesday night a new banner unfurled atop the North End supporters section at Banc of California Stadium.
Created by LAFC’s 3252 supporters’ union, it read: “Schulter an Schulter.”
“I helped the supporters double-check the German,” said Dortmund native and LA resident Steven Böll. “But seeing it today gives me chills.”
“Shoulder to shoulder” — a motto among LAFC supporters and the club itself, that it has extended to a team across the Atlantic.
In only the fifth-ever game played at their new home ground, the MLS expansion side hosted German giants Borussia Dortmund in a contest that ended in a 1-1 draw with goals from Aaron Kovar and Maximilian Phillip.
While leagues around the world, and across different sports, regularly form partnerships with foreign teams for cross-promotional purposes, LAFC and BVB have already delivered on sharing the common thread that originally sparked their bond: a supporters-first club culture.
After a group of 3252 supporters were invited to visit Dortmund during LAFC’s preseason, the Los Angeles club returned the favor by hosting Dortmund for their first-ever international friendly. LAFC supporters joined Dortmund’s at the onset of Tuesday’s match to participate in BVB’s tradition of singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” as yellow jerseys dotted the sea of black and gold in another sold-out match at the Banc.
“Amazing crowd, fantastic field, fun game, two teams that enjoyed the football and spectators that made a great atmosphere,” said LAFC coach Bob Bradley following the match.
While cautioning reporters not to read too much into the exhibition, Bradley acknowledged that the occasion was an important experience for younger players like goalscorer Kovar (who came on for Carlos Vela in the 26th minute), Shaft Brewer Jr. and Tristan Blackmon, the latter of whom — along with fellow rookie Joao Moutinho — were the only two LAFC players to go the full 90 minutes.
“All these guys are making progress in training and they need something to reinforce that,” Bradley said, adding that he experimented with Blackmon both at right back, then in the center of the park.
“It’s different for sure,” said Blackman, who made his first appearance at Banc of California Stadium. “The level is much higher. I was actually talking to my friend earlier and he [reminded me] last year I was playing Stanford in the national tournament and now I’m playing against one of the top teams in Germany.”
And it wasn’t only younger players who enjoyed the occasion of the friendly.
“They’re playing [UEFA] Champions League, they are playing [in the] World Cup, they are word-class players,” said Lee Nguyen, who assisted Kovar on the opening goal. “Being able to go out there and hang with these guys and go toe-to-toe, it’s got to give you confidence, right? I think it’s a great experience for the young guys, they can use this to push and grow.”
The veteran attacking midfielder was visibly stunned to see the stadium in such a fervor.
“On a Tuesday night? Isn’t that incredible?” said Nguyen.
Supporters certainly thought so.
Dortmund-raised Böll, who runs a Germany-style Döner Kebab shop near Beverly Hills, spoke to MLSsoccer.com from the south side of the stadium about the multitude of BVB supporters from around the US and abroad who’d visited his restaurant during their visit to LA for the match.
Between shouts into a yellow and black megaphone — as he rallied the section of supporters in his BVB kit — he explained why.
“I see a lot of similarities,” said Böll, pointing to BVB’s working-class roots and access for ordinary people to get away from work and the monotony of daily life. He pointed out the $20 safe-standing tickets the club has prioritized locking in for members and the character of the supporters he’s interacted with after a few visits to the Banc.
“We have 25,000 fans in the Yellow Wall,” he said of the capacity of Dortmund’s famous supporter section. “But at this rate, I think LAFC are going to have to double the 3252 in the next few years.”
When asked if he’d come back, he makes a point of lifting up his BVB kit to reveal an LAFC black kit underneath, the same one with the words “shoulder to shoulder” stitched into the collar.
It was a gesture indicative of a night where everyone went home happy, as Bob Bradley said.
“It’s what it’s supposed to be.”