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LAFC wins thrilling home opener in stoppage time against Seattle Sounders

Apr 29, 2018; Los Angeles , CA, USA; Los Angeles FC defender Laurent Ciman (23) celebrates after scoring a free kick in the 90th minute against the Seattle Sounders during a MLS soccer match in the first game at Banc of California Stadium. LAFC defeated the Sounders 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — It should have been a save. The free kick curled left, around the wall of Seattle defenders, over the head of Marco Ureña and straight into the waiting hands of Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei.

Maybe the roar of the North End supporters section was that distracting. Maybe the attack had worn down the defense or the gutsy ball caught Frei a little off guard. Or maybe Laurent Ciman kicked it too hard for any keeper to stop. But the ball ricocheted left, flying into the net in the 92nd minute, and the sold-out announced crowd of 22,000 exploded in a roar of relief.

“It was the football gods,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said with a laugh in the postgame press conference. He shook his head, a grin splitting his face. “Sometimes, things just happen.”

With the goal from its captain, LAFC (5-2-0, 15 points) christened its new home stadium with a win in a sea of black and gold. The 1-0 victory helped the team secure the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference entering the third month of MLS play. The Seattle Sounders (1-4-1, 4 points) remain at the bottom of the table.

Most importantly, the game gave the LAFC fanbase a chance to grow and to celebrate at home. The stands boasted a plethora of celebrities, including owners Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm and Will Ferrell. But the heartbeat of the club’s support base rested in the North End, the standing section filled with fans who paid only $20 a ticket to stand, chant and sing for all 90 minutes of play. For these fans — many who have been with the team since before a roster was even announced — the homecoming victory was a dream come true.

“This is what soccer in Los Angeles really is,” said Patrick Aviles, the club’s head of supporters relations. “It finally feels like we have soccer in Los Angeles now. This is a family and a community here.”

Watch: LAFC’s Laurent Ciman saves day with last-minute goal to win home opener

For the most part, the game was split evenly between both teams, which mirrored each other almost perfectly on the stat sheet. LAFC possessed the ball more by a 0.12 percent margin, took one more shot and conceded five less fouls. Seattle placed two more shots on target, took two more corner kicks and placed two more shots on frame.

“It wasn’t very divertido,” Vela said. “It wasn’t the most fun game.”

Ultimately, this was reflected by a game that centered in the middle of the field, providing little action for the crowd to cheer. The Los Angeles defense stood strong to hold Seattle to another shutout, but it wasn’t forced to withstand all that much attack. Seattle placed only six shots on frame, forcing LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller to snag four saves to preserve a clean sheet. But the Sounders only look 13 shots, most of which came in the first half.

LAFC struggled similarly to break down a balanced and organized defensive stand from Seattle. The team played especially stagnant in the first half, placing only one shot on frame to be easily scooped up by Frei.

Seattle controlled the tempo in the first half, out-possessing LAFC and cutting off counterattacks. Part of this dominance came from the Sounders’ defensive focus on Vela. They smothered the forward and kept him from setting up plays in his typical suave style. Bradley and the crowd exploded in uproar over a series of rough fouls on Vela in the first half, becoming particularly agitated when a defender roped him down by the neck.

“I think it’s part of the game,” Vela said. “I like the play but of course that is not a fun way to play. Sometimes you have to play strong and work really hard during a game like that.”

 

The club found its balance in the second half, taking back possession and keeping Seattle out of its attacking third. Yet it still struggled to find the net, taking only eight more shots. As the final minutes wore down, LAFC found a few chances, missing a series of headers in the box that left fans groaning in disbelief.

But then came a foul in the final minute of play, and a roar slowly built to fill the stadium as Ciman stepped up to his mark. He’d scored a free kick with similar positioning in last weekend’s game against his former team, the Montreal Impact, and there was a calm to the captain as he stepped up.

When the ball hit the net, the stadium exploded.

 

Of course it would end like this, with all the drama befitting a game played this close to Hollywood. Fans threw their beer skyward, unpinning canisters of gold and black smoke and wrapping their arms around each other. As the jumbotron flashed the final score, the team jogged over to the North End and Ciman wrangled a bullhorn from a supporter to lead the section in one final song.

In a week, this team will take the field again. But for now — maybe only for this week — LAFC holds a perfect record on its home field. And that’s something the team and its fans will savor.

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