LOS ANGELES: Laurent Ciman’s free kick slipped past the wall and arced toward the net. Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei crouched for a simple save, but it inexplicably eluded his grasp.
Pandemonium broke out in Banc of California Stadium. Los Angeles FC’s final shot had just hit the net in the last minute to win the expansion team’s very first game in its beautiful new stadium.
Even for LAFC, a team with strong ties to the entertainment world, this Hollywood ending was almost too wild to be believed.
Ciman scored in the third minute of stoppage time, and LAFC opened the $350 million Banc of California Stadium with a stunning 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders on Sunday night.
“There was a lot of excitement, and everybody felt it,” Ciman said. “We really wanted to give it back to the fans. I realize the goalkeeper did a bit of a mistake, but you have to try, and I did.”
Tyler Miller made three saves to earn the shutout for LAFC, but Major League Soccer’s 23rd team seemed headed to its first scoreless draw before its Belgian captain lined up a free kick in the final minute of play.
Frei simply couldn’t hang on to the low, moving ball, and the first goal in stadium history electrified the sellout crowd of 22,000 mostly black-and-gold-clad fans, which serenaded LAFC throughout the evening.
“What a stadium, what a crowd,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. “It’s nice not to have to inaugurate this wonderful place with a 0-0. So maybe somebody was looking down on us.”
The storybook almost had a duller ending. With an ownership group including Magic Johnson and Will Ferrell watching the club’s exciting young lineup, LAFC still failed on numerous second-half scoring chances before it managed to christen its sparkling arena properly.
The players gathered in front of the North End supporters’ section afterward, singing and dancing while black-and-gold smoke poured out of the joyous stands. It resembled a scene from a hallowed home of an established soccer power, not a debut game for a first-year team in a stadium that only existed on paper 18 months ago.
“Maybe the game was not the most fun to watch, but in the end, we won,” said Mexican forward Carlos Vela, LAFC’s first player. “We played really hard from the back, and we scored in the last minute. Everybody was enjoying it.”—AP