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LAFC fans soak in first game at Banc of California stadium

LAFC captain Laurent Ciman pressed his finger to his lips, hushing the crowd in front of him.

For more than 90 minutes, the announced 22,000 fans packing Banc of California stadium shook the newly-minted arena with chants and songs. But now, with a single gesture from the captain, the crowd fell completely silent.

Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la, Ciman whispered into a bullhorn. His teammates looped their arms around his shoulders, swaying to the beat of his chant. “L-A-F-C.”

The crowd echoed the chant back to him, softly at first, then loudly. As the song built in volume, it somehow fell off-kilter, splitting into two halves of the stadium singing at different tempos. But the team and the fans didn’t care. They had just clinched a 1-0 victory in stoppage time for the team’s fifth win of the season. They would sing off-key and off-tune and offbeat, as loud as they could, to celebrate that victory.

Pictures: LAFC’s home-opening victory

The inaugural victory at Banc of California stadium was a homecoming and a milestone for a family of fans who waited years to see the black and gold. In front of them, Ciman — who had scored the winning goal, a stunning free kick in the 92nd minute — was a hero. And on this field, they were perfect.

“This is unforgettable,” LAFC fan Shakeela Yearwood said. “We’re a community and we’ve built this together. This is how we built it from the beginning.”

Experience the sights and sounds of the supporters section on the North End:

The wave of black and gold arrived two hours before kickoff. Supporters trickled in slowly at first, one by one, in pairs and small groups. Outside the stadium, thousands of fans grilled burgers and quesadillas, drank swigs of lemonade and beer and bought bacon-wrapped hot dogs from vendors who typically frequent the Coliseum for USC and Los Angeles Rams football games.

A supporter leads the North End in chants before the game starts. Photo by Julia Poe.

But by the time the sun began to dip close to the roof of Banc of California stadium, the North End supporters section was nearly filled to capacity. Some hoisted scarves, others waved flags. A small band of 12 drums, representing each of the six main supporters groups, kept the pulse of the section leaping. By kickoff, the volume spiked as haphazard chanting came together to form a single voice for the entire fan section.

The section exploded alive the first time for the national anthem. The club pulled out all the stops for its star-studded home opener. But rather than rely on a celebrity to sing the anthem, the team turned to its most dependable voices — those of the fans themselves. The supporters section led the stadium in an A cappella version of the Star Spangled Banner, momentarily trading the Mexican flags it proudly waved during the game for a solitary American flag.

“It speaks to our shoulder-to-shoulder [motto],” Yearwood said. “We’re bringing all cultures together. It’s amazing. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Shoulder to shoulder, we’re a community.”

LAFC support Jerry Jimenez holds his two-year-old son, Diego, on the Banc of California stadium concourse. Jimenez is proud that his son will one day be able to say he’s been a life-long fan of the club. Photo by Julia Poe.

This pride in the team’s community is what fueled Jerry Jimenez throughout the game. For all 90 minutes, he walked through the concourse cradling his 2-year-old son, Diego, on his side. For years, the supporters section had served as a second family for Jimenez, a place to celebrate the ups and downs of life and to celebrate the sport of soccer itself.

As the club built toward its first season, he built a family.

Two years ago, Jimenez told his friends in the supporters group he would be a father. Now, he ambled through the completed stadium with his son on his hip, hugging friends and humming the chants to himself. Diego watched calmly, his eyes wide, clinging to his father’s collar and pointing at fans as they ran by.

“This is awesome for us,” Jimenez said. “I think it’s ridiculously crazy. It’s been— I don’t think there’s words for it right now.”

For LAFC director of supporter relations Patrick Aviles, the ultimate goal was to create a family out of a soccer team. For three years, he built the supporters groups, using an approach that became a mantra for the team — block by block, street by street, one by one. Over that time, Aviles traveled across the city to bars and recreational clubs and neighborhoods known for loving the sport, attempting to recruit as many fans as possible. He built the fans who stood behind him, filling the stadium 22,000-strong and deafening his own voice with their cheers.

“There’s a special feeling coming out here…I think it feels like home.”

“This is amazing,” Aviles said. “It finally feels like we have soccer in Los Angeles now. This is a real club with real support. We just couldn’t wait for them to come home and I hope they see that right now.”

Fans pose for a picture after LAFC wins its inaugural home game 1-0 over the Seattle Sounders. Photo by Julia Poe.

It was difficult in the final minutes, with few shots on either side and both teams lagging, to keep the supporters rowdy. Yet they did, building chants that drowned out any other noise, forcing both coaches to shout and wave their arms in an effort to communicate with players on the field.

As the referees added five minutes of stoppage time, the stadium rippled with electricity. When a Seattle defender tackled Carlos Vela at the top of the box, earning an immediate whistle for a free kick, the noise in the stadium transformed rapidly — first a roar of anger, then a cacophony of held breaths.

The goal that followed was met with confetti and smoke and cheers and a fair share of tears. It meant more than just a tally on the scorecard, more than just three points. For the fans, it was a celebration of the past, of three years of hard work and camaraderie built around nothing but a love for the game. It was a promise for the future, for wins and eventual losses to come on this home field.

Watch: Laurent Ciman saves day with last-minute goal

For the fans in black and gold, Sunday night affirmed everything they had been hoping for the past two months — and for many, the past two years. 

“There’s a special feeling coming out here,” Jimenez said. “You can hear it and feel it in everything we do. There’s nothing else like it. I think it feels like home.”

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