LAFC supporters affirm passion for team after El Tráfico loss

The LAFC supporters section made itself heard in fiery fashion during Saturday's inaugural El Tráfico face off with the Galaxy, filling the stadium with a vibrant crowd of fans.

In the first half of El Tráfico, a chant boomed through StubHub Center, swallowing up conversations and haphazard cheers and orders for beer and popcorn at the concession stands.

For a minute, the chant was all that could be heard.

“L-A!”  

The roar came from one corner of the stadium, from a swarming mass of fans in black and gold. The response came from everywhere else — from seats in every section of the stadium, from fans waiting in line, even from an excitable pair of men shouting as they exited the restroom. 

 

“F-C!”

The inaugural game of the derby between the two teams of Los Angeles felt like a hometown experience for LAFC fans, who made themselves heard in Carson, Calif., Saturday. For the expansion club, the first round of El Tráfico was about forging a new identity. Even with the loss — to the hands of superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović who made a miraculous debut for the Galaxy — fans felt the club overall showed its strength on the field and in the stands.

Until this season, the L.A. Galaxy was the status quo of soccer in Los Angeles. But there’s a rebellion underway in LAFC, and it will be a hard tide to turn.

“That’s what they’ve always been about — by the fans, for the fans,” supporter Sal Estrada said. “We are the backbone of the team. It’s a beautiful thing. I haven’t seen anything like it from an expansion team.”

Most rivalries are born out of necessity, out of chance, out of history and legacy. This one is built on 12.1 miles of pavement separating the most storied club in the MLS and the league’s newest addition.

The handful of miles between the stadiums is the basis for a contentious rivalry. It’s fitting, then, that rivalry game has already been informally dubbed “El Tráfico” by fans on both sides. The commute tops out at 40 minutes at the height of rush hour. But for fans based in West and South Los Angeles, the Galaxy never felt like a true home team.

“It always felt almost Disney-fied,” supporter Joe Scibelli said. “It was too family friendly and too shiny. The colors, the players, the name, the location — it just didn’t fit the vibe of how I see Los Angeles.”

There were plenty of reasons for Los Angeles soccer fans to reject the Galaxy. Fans of the Mexican national team didn’t like cheering for American superstar Landon Donovan. Residents in the northern and western neighborhoods of Los Angeles didn’t feel the Galaxy reached out to their areas.

When LAFC first formed, it aimed to address all of those issues. Its colors and shield were simple and sleek, as was its name — Los Angeles Football Club. Most importantly, the club built a stadium in the heart of downtown and aimed to poach fans from every corner of the city.

That remains the pulse of LAFC success. The moniker “The heart of Los Angeles” is emblazoned on shirts and supporter scarves, and it was chanted throughout El Tráfico.

“I love downtown Los Angeles and its culture, but I grew up watching the Galaxy and it never really represented that,” said LAFC supporter Cecilia Portillo. “LAFC comes from the roots, from the fans, and I think because of that they’re really reflecting the people who supported them from the start.”

The atmosphere inside StubHub Center crackled with this electric antagonism once fans stepped through its gates. The southwest corner of the stadium rumbled with chants for over an hour before the game. The 3252 supporters union heckled Galaxy fans and players alike, starting booming chants of “L-A-F-C” that drowned out any home team cheers.

LAFC supporters knew the legacy they were fighting against, a legacy well reflected in the Galaxy trophy case — nine conference championships, five MLS cups, four supporters shields and two Lamar Hunt Open cups. This a team whose roster has boasted some of the greatest names in the game, including Landon Donovan, David Beckham and most recently Zlatan Ibrahimović.

But this only fed the hunger of the supporters. Their club had nothing to lose and everything to prove. Fans who never connected to the Galaxy now packed the club’s stadium, helping to sellout

StubHub Center for one of the team’s greatest home game showings.

The difference between the club’s supporters was marked. Even in its home stadium, the Galaxy reserves two different sections for two different supporters groups who sing different chants. But LAFC’s supporters acted as one, using the 3252 supporters union to organize a series of buses for transportation to Carson and clustering into one solidified group in the away corner.

The result was a dream come true for many fans, a sea of black and gold that unleashed a cacophony of cheers and songs from kick off to the final whistle. At some points, it was even confusing for the Galaxy players, who thought that chants of “Los Angeles” were coming from their own supporters, not the horde of LAFC fans.

The camaraderie in LAFC is beyond imaginable,” said LAFC supporter Lloyd Vernes. “The brotherhood is already here, the culture is already developing. Everyone is super excited and ecstatic about being in this environment. Honestly, this is an experience. The culture, the people, the diversity, there’s just so much that has come together to make this happen. To be a part of this is truly an honor.”

Despite its intensity, Saturday’s game reflected the friendly tone of this derby. After all, many LAFC fans started out as Galaxy supporters, or

passive fans at the least. In the hours before kickoff, it was hard to find a tailgate devoted to purely LAFC or Galaxy fans. The two communities mixed together easily.

 

Fans in opposing jerseys traded taunts, but they also passed plates of tacos and hot dogs and watched their children play pick-up games off soccer in the grass surrounding the parking lot. The atmosphere returned hours later, as fans offered up high-fives and light-hearted insults on the trek back to their cars.

 

“I have Galaxy friends, I have LAFC friends,” LAFC supporter Oscar Gonzalez said as he grilled breakfast tacos for friends at a tailgate supporting both teams. “We talk sh– to each other when it comes to the game, but in the end, we’re all trying to have a good game and have a lot of fun. It’s exciting for any fan to have something like this to look forward to every season.”

 

For fans of LAFC and soccer as whole, this was the ultimate goal of El Tráfico. The first clash between the two teams was physical, heated and thick with impressive, jaw-dropping goals. It pushed every player — yes, including Ibrahimović — to put on a show.

LAFC fans were all smiles as they exited the heart-breaking, come-from-behind 4-3 loss. The Galaxy won the game, that’s for sure. But for fans, exhausted and energized by the thrill of the day, the game felt like a victory in itself.