Los Angeles FC 1 Toronto 1 (21st September 2019)
Most away trips, there isn’t that much of interest around the ground. A pub, a nice view of countryside if you are lucky. Perhaps even a minor historic building now and then. At LA FC’s Banc of California Stadium, well, it’s next door to the LA Memorial Coliseum, venue for the 1984 Olympics, and now home to the LA Rams NFL team, as well as the USC Trojans college football team. Next to that are the Natural History Museum of California, and the California Science Center. Oh…the Science Center sounds interesting, much in there? Yeah, plenty of stuff to see, and it’s free. Anything else? Oh…yeah, that reminds me…they have the Space Shuttle Endeavor there as well, if you want to look at that.
The Banc of America Stadium itself is worth seeing too. Completed in the spring of 2018, I’m struggling to think of many better stadiums of its size. Holding just 22,000 but looking bigger, it’s an unashamedly modern build, but with enough difference in the stands to make it interesting. Three sides hold two tiers of seats, but one side has open corners, making that side stand out, and also, if you are in the right place, offers a clear view of the Los Angeles downtown skyline two and a half miles to the north.
The opposite end doesn’t offer such a view, but does feature a 3000 place “safe standing” section, which effectively functions as a traditional home end terrace, where all the noise comes from. Strange how litigation-happy USA is fine with such arrangements, while the authorities in the UK insist such areas are far too dangerous to be allowed (unless the ball is oval-shaped and passed backwards, or the football isn’t of a high standard – both of which are vital in assessing safety).
While it’s easy to wish UK clubs building similar sized grounds would build something of such quality, it does have to be said it came at a price tag, $250 million, which would seem expensive to build something twice the size in England.
Maybe people in the USA are just a lot richer. I have seen what they seem happy to pay for food and drink in US sports grounds, and $25 to park seems quite normal. And looking at LAFC’s rather smart black and gold shirts in the club shop, I couldn’t but think English clubs’ overpriced shirts would seem like bargains in the US, where a new LAFC shirt would give you just one cent of change from $130. It might even be worse than that, if like many places in the USA, the sales tax isn’t added to the display price.
Opting for a seat in the end opposite the safe standing end, I was well placed to view the display of flags, singing, and black smoke from the smoke bombs set off now and then during the evening. They were certainly an enthusiastic bunch, even if they went for the ultras style of singing which I find a bit one-paced, rather than rising and falling in flow with the game going on, the in the UK.
On this day though, that was for the best, as it wasn’t the greatest game. LAFC played some nice football, but flattered to deceive, and it wasn’t a huge shock when Toronto went in front inside 20 minutes. They’d looked dangerous on the break, but got their chance due to dithering at the back, allowing the ball to be nicked from the defender and squared to Jozy Altidore. Jozy, best known in England for flopping at both Hull and Sunderland (two goals in 70 appearances) laid the ball off to Japanese striker Tsubasa Endoh, and he hit a fine low shot across the keeper to silence the home fans.
The home side did slowly wake up, forcing a save with a shot from outside the box, and even thinking they’d equalised when Uruguayan Diego Rossi slipped the ball past the keeper at the near post. A flag was rightly raised though, and the home team went in a goal down.
If you were a Toronto fan at the game – a given the silence that greeted their goal, that’s unlikely – you’d have wanted them to carry on pushing, to get the 2nd goal that would have made the game safe. Instead they chose to sit back in the 2nd half, and play for the 1-0.
To be fair, it nearly worked. LAFC kept playing the same pretty but ineffective football that had failed for the previous 45 minutes, as if they had no idea of how to inject a bit of urgency into their play. Had it been an English game, there’d no doubt have been a fair degree of four-letter “encouragement” to the players, but American crowds seem too polite for that.
Right at the end though, something at last paid off. A good ball was played out the the wing. As the winger cut into the box, a defender made a total hash of what should have been a routine clearance, missing the ball completely and kicking the winger in the chest with his follow-through.
Somehow it required VAR to confirm it was a penalty rather than a corner, and Mexican Carlos Vela, once of Arsenal and something of a crowd favourite took the kick. He stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way for a 95th minute equaliser, saving the game, and doing his hero status no harm at all.