LOS ANGELES — As the final minutes of the first season of LAFC soccer drew to a close Thursday night, a frustratingly familiar controversy wormed its way back into the stands of Banc of California stadium.
It hadn’t been the best night for LAFC, on and off the pitch. A miscue on back-end defending and an own goal, combined with a spectacular, karate-kicking golazo from Damir Kreilach had given Real Salt Lake an unexpected three points. The LAFC attack, meanwhile, was struggling to punch through a third goal to even the score.
The teams combined for 29 fouls and seven yellow cards, and off the field, the atmosphere was just as chippy. Fans threw full beer cans and rolls of toilet paper at the Real Salt Lake backline, forcing the game to be stopped to clear the field and arrest the culprits.
In the final minutes, however, a larger problem emerged — the use of the homophobic “p***” chant on keeper kicks, which began in small groups on the South End and was used resoundingly by the crowd several times. When the team displayed a message warning fans not to use the chant, a large group shouted it even louder.
The chant had been the focus of early criticism of the club after small groups of supporters used it in the team’s home opener in May. However, since then the club was proud of its efforts to stamp out the use of the chant, countering the issue by displaying pride flags before every game and hosting a Pride Night in July. The chant’s return, along with the struggles to contain fans who threw items onto the field, was met with frustration and disappointment at every level of the club.
“We have the best [fans] in the league,” head coach Bob Bradley said during the postgame press conference. “That being said, from the very beginning, we’ve been very strong with what good support is all about. Tonight, some of what happened, we don’t need that. We will give our hearts to them, and they will give their hearts to us, but we have to make sure it doesn’t cross the line.”
On Friday following the game, the club and the 3252 supporters group released a joint statement of “zero tolerance,” pledging to do more to rid the stadium of the chant. The full statement was posted on all LAFC social media accounts and echoed by supporters groups throughout the city:
Zero tolerance. This is not who we are.
— LAFC (@LAFC) November 2, 2018
Zero Tolerance… Stay Classy! @LAFC and @LAFC3252 do not support or condone the use of offensive language and inappropriate chants.
They have no place in our Stadium or in our Club.
We stand Shoulder to Shoulder. ⚽️👊🏽 @lafc3252 #lafc #the3252 pic.twitter.com/XdgDTBk4Dn
— LAFCLuckys (@LAFCLuckys) November 2, 2018
The main concern was that a single night, and the actions of a percentage of the fanbase, would sour the memory of the first season for the club. Even Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who was the target of most of the beer cans thrown throughout the night, echoed this sentiment, posting on Twitter to thank the LAFC fanbase and asking other MLS fans to take the night in scope of the full season.
“Don’t let a few salty fans take away what LAFC brought to the league this year,” Rimando said. “I applaud their passion, front office, and team for adding another fantastic franchise to MLS.”