On Sunday night on a frozen rubber field in Seattle, the Galaxy were able to pull off something special as they fought and clawed their to way past an impressive Seattle Sounders team, securing a place in the MLS Cup final. Back in LA, however, something special was also happening. The following account is entirely my own, of a series of events that took place on that rainy Sunday night in LA when the Galaxy managed to pull off the impossible, and, as you will read, Galaxy fans pulled together to achieve something wonderful in their own little way. I choose to share my experience because, quite frankly, I think it was beautiful, and in so many ways, the perfect illustration of everything I and so many others love so much about this sport and the incredible fan culture that surrounds it.
Before I begin, I'd like to point out that I haven't always been a soccer journalist. In fact, at the beginning of this season, I was just a loud and passionate fan who wore his heart on his sleeve and sang each home game until his voice would give out. Frankly, I don't know how I went from being that kid to being a dressed up member of the press sipping coffee in the press box, but somehow it happened, and my head is still kind of spinning from the pace of the transformation. Anyway, as much as I have loved my transformation into a bonafied member of the fourth estate, I have to admit that a part of me still misses being a wild and screaming fan. In the stands, emotions rule the day. When your team scores a goal, it's utter jubilation, and you go bonkers accordingly. When they lose, it's like a punch to the gut. The press box, however, is completely different. It's a place of business and professional decorum. And to be clear, I'm not complaining about this. That's how it should be. I'm merely relating that the way in which I experience soccer has changed dramatically in the past year, and that there are some aspects of my former life which I miss. And this brings us to the night in question.
The night started out simple enough. The Galaxy were hosting an official watch party at the Angel City Brewery, and I decided to attend. My friends and I carpooled to the Universal City Metro Station, and after doing battle with an especially confusing tap card machine that hid the day pass fare and wouldn't take one of the numbers in my debit pin until I pressed the button like 8 times, I eventually bested the machine and we made our way down the red line to Union Station, where my friends and I stood out like sore thumbs in our Galaxy gear, as dozens of college kids wheeled their bags through the terminal having just arrived back after spending Thanksgiving at home.
While we waited for the gold line train in the pouring rain, we hit our first speed bump of the night. A friend who was already at the Angel City Brewery called us and told us that the place was packed and that we needed to hurry. Unfortunately, we were at the hands of the metro time tables and there was no hurrying to be done. All we could do was huddle under a canopy and wait for our train. When it finally arrived, we saw someone wearing Galaxy gear sitting inside. It wasn't long before my friends and I were swapping stories with him about our love for our team. It's amazing how quickly strangers can be brought together by something as simple as the love of the same soccer team. And that's the thing about being a Galaxy fan. Despite the importance of this game, there was probably no one in all of Union Station who knew there was a Galaxy game on that night, let alone one of such importance. When it comes to the Galaxy, the greater LA population is often oblivious. Seeing a fellow Galaxy fan on the train, then, is an experience beyond that of striking up a conversation with a stranger over a common interest. It's more like discovering a new member of your family, or tribe, and my friends and I treated him accordingly.
When the train reached our stop we had to trudge through the rain for a couple of blocks to reach the Angel City Brewery. We arrived about 6:00, admittedly way too late, and the place was packed. The viewing party was sectioned off to a side room and there was a line extending to the back of the brewery to get in. While waiting in line, we were nervously watching our watches.
"The game starts in 15 minutes, and this line isn't moving. What do we do?" I was asking them nervously. After my friends went off to purchase some beer at the bar, I asked our new found friend from the train to hold my space for me as I went to the front of the line and talk to the bouncer, and he did so gladly. It was small, but it was the first of many incidents to come which really demonstrate the camaraderie among soccer fans. I jogged to the front of the line to see what was up.
"So, are we all getting in?" I asked the bouncer. He looked at me, giving me a bit of a suspicious eye for whatever reason (perhaps just a habit as a bouncer) before giving me the info I needed. "I don't know. The thing is, we're at capacity. Right now it's one out, one in."
This was terrible news. How in the world were we going to see the game? We couldn't miss it. The news started to spread throughout the line and people frantically got out their phones to seek out back up bars. It was around that time that the Angel City Brigade came to the rescue. Several key members exited the main room and started walking down the line, looking for people they knew. Despite having already made it in themselves, they were outside concerned about everyone who was shut out. Better yet, they had a back up plan in motion-- having somehow found another bar to accommodate so many people in such a short amount of time. I grabbed my friends, including our new friend from the train, and we started to follow them.
The plan was set. We were all heading to a joint called Escondite a few blocks away. The "March-to-the-Bar" soon began as 40 of us or so began to make our way to the spot. It was a pretty remarkable thing. Just minutes before, we were in desperation mode and now thanks to the collective good will and lightning fast social mobilizing of fellow Galaxy fans, we had a new spot. We were saved! Another perfect example of what makes the culture of support that exists around soccer in this country so special.
We arrived at the bar and many Galaxy fans were already there. The place could not have been more accommodating of a group of some 50 Galaxy fans showing up at the last minute (calls were made ahead, but again, all very last minute) and acting all rowdy in their establishment. They had two TVs in the bar, and one in a patio area lit up by Christmas tree lights. Here are some grainy pictures of the spot and the amazing view we had of downtown.
So there I was. Not at the official Galaxy event I planned to attend, but an off shoot party organized solely by supporters. In other words, I was back where I began this season, and the night would soon turn into one hell of a last hurrah for my life as a screaming fan. Now I'm not going to give a full blow by blow of the game, but I do want to highlight the peaks and valleys of the emotional roller coaster it put us through as I think it illustrates my larger point about this sport and the passion that surrounds it.
The Galaxy came out moving the ball well, and the mood was good. For the first 25 minutes, we were all pretty confident. Then Evans scored for Seattle. It was hardly a death knell to our hopes, but our cushion was beginning to disappear a lot faster than we all would have hoped. From that point till the half, the Galaxy started to play terribly. Time after time, they failed to string together more than two or three passes in the midfield before giving it up, and eventually resorted to long hopeful boom balls.In the minutes leading up to Dempsey's goal, the mood had changed dramatically. People were yelling out in frustration. As a fan, when you have your entire heart invested in the outcome of a game, there is nothing worse than watching your beloved team get picked apart and utterly destroyed. And that's what we were seeing.
And then Dempsey scored. What began as a night of confidence had turned into one of frustration and pain. By the way the Galaxy were playing, it looked like they were about to lose a second trophy to the Sounders, and that was by no means acceptable to anyone in that bar. Very strangely, it was at this time that the burger I ordered was brought to my table. It was literally a giant burger topped with cheese, maple syrup and bacon in between two glazed donuts, and I couldn't bring myself to properly enjoy it.
The mood was awful, but hopes were not completely lost. We all knew that we only needed to score a goal. Sure they weren't playing like they were going to score one, but we all know how soccer works. Goals can come out of no where, and we all just sort of half expected/ half hoped that we would get one somehow. After the game, Landon Donovan described the team as a team full of champions that know how to win, and I guess as LA fans we've become so used to winning trophies and having our team come up big for us in the playoffs that there was a sort of expectation in the air. This is the Galaxy. They WILL come through for us.
Now I don't know what Bruce said to the team in the locker-room, but the team looked much better in the second half. Seattle was still getting lots of numbers behind the ball, frustrating LA's offense every time it converged on the 18, but the movement was better. And then, 8 minutes into the second half, it finally happened.
And the bar absolutely erupted. High-fives, hugs, jumping on tables, and unceasing cheering. It was pandemonium. Glorious pandemonium. The likes of which I haven't felt since my days in the stands. After randomly hugging a few people, and an awkward high five or two, I fell to my knees, not caring the patio was still filled with standing water from the still pouring rain, and I pounded the ground, close to tears of joy. I then jumped on the table, following the lead of many others.
Chants of "LA Galaxy" rang out. "This is better than Sex!" one of my friend's shouted. I had to agree. It was a fantastic feeling, and one of the reasons I and so many others love this sport so much. Chants of "Ju-Juninho, Ju-Ju-Juninho" soon followed, followed by a mock stadium call by someone standing on a table. "Goal scored by number 19" "Juninho" "Number 19" Juninho" "Number 19" "Juninho" "Thank You" "You're Welcome"
And from that point on, the Galaxy played with swagger. Donovan was pulling jukes the likes of which I haven't seen from him since he was 20. Gordon came in and was an utter bull dog holding the ball and fighting. Fighting to win. At one point he skillfully brought the ball down from mid air with the top of his laces, turned to face a defender and knocked it off him, caught the ball between his legs in a sort of Blanco technique only a catch, and then somehow flung it from his legs and bounced it off the defender to win a throw in. The bar went nuts. We were alive again. We were confident. We'd been rescued from the pits of despair by a rocket from Juninho, and now Alan Gordon and Landon Donovan were fighting like animals possessed to keep the series lead.
In the closing ten minutes, nobody was sitting. Those 10 minutes felt like hours. Days even. The Sounders kept pumping the ball into the box, and the Galaxy kept finding a way to clear it. Each long ball clearance or Penedo catch, met with thunderous cheering. Here in this bar in the shadow of the LA skyline, when the final whistle blew, we all went nuts. Hysteria is the closest word to describe the combination of utter jubilation and madness. The bar soon filled with chanting. It was a great feeling. A great moment. And the night, wasn't over.The story of a rainy November night in LA and a series of events which reminded me just why I love this game so much.
News soon spread that the Galaxy would be arriving at the airport at 11:30. Plans were set in motion. Everyone finding a way to make it. I just sort of looked at my friends. "You down?" They were. I soon tried to work my "journalism connections" to try and figure out where the team was landing, but in the end, the best source turned out to by Cozmo, who tweeted out the address.
We said goodbye to the guy we met on the train and left for the metro. Another one of our friends needed a ride and we were happy to give it to him. First we had to get to my car, and it was all the way up in the Valley. For whatever reason, there is no good way to get to the airport via metro and the metro closes way too early on the weekends, so it was our only option.
Fast forward to the airport. We arrived about 11:00 and there were maybe 60 or so fans already there. The Galaxy star squad was showing us where to park with big Galaxy flags. Soon Cozmo arrived on the scene, and the party really got started. I know deep down that Cozmo is just a man in a suit, but damn it if he doesn't bring complete joy to me on sight; I know I'm not alone. Countless grown men dropped everything to take selfies with him.
It was chilly and the ground was wet from the earlier rain, but nobody cared. We waited and waited, talking amongst ourselves, meeting new Galaxy fans and catching up with others we already knew. Periodically we'd here news taht LA's flight had been pushed back. First we heard 12:30. Then we heard 1:00. The star squad did a great job keeping everyone engaged, but honestly, I'm not sure it mattered as I don't think anyone was going to leave until those players landed and we accomplished what we set out to do. Now, keep in mind this was a Sunday night, and many in some cases, in a few short hours many of these Galaxy fans would have to wake up for work. But nobody cared. We wee here for the team. Sporadic pockets of chanting filled the night. At one point, the Minnesota Timberwolves landed at the same private terminal, and we booed their bus as they drove by.
Some people dozed off, other kept busy in their own way. One of my friends kept challenging me to do push-ups with him. I didn't take the offer. I was happy to sit on the ground and talk with friends, recounting the night's events and the unceasing joy we were feeling. It was now hours after the game, but the jubilation hadn't subsided. This is what it means to be a fan and I was soaking up every minute of it.
Finally, Cozmo re-emerged from a car and the star squad alerted us that Cozmo was going to go get the players; welcome news as it was now past one. Soon a parade of cars began to pass us by beginning with Dave Sarachan. He rolled down his window and solicited hi-fives. The star squad and others tried to keep people from going up to cars like that, but the precedent was already set and for the most part the players didn't seem to mind. One by one, players came by as we craned our necks each time to see who it was. We were all lined up on a curb, so as the people up front saw who it was the message traveled down the long line.
Everyone was into the love, it seemed. Even Bruce Arena, in his oh so appropriate Audi, had his window rolled down and high-fived fans with a bit of a smirk. Some players went all out. I forget who was driving, but Jose Villarreal was in the back seat of a car and he had rolled down the widow completely and was standing up out of it like a dog feeling the wind in his ears. He leaned deep into the crowd, high fiving people even back in the second row. Alan Gordon's exit also springs to mind. He brought his truck to a virtual stop, leaning out the window cheering with us as people madly high fived him.
When Juniniho passed he was met with the appropriate thunderous cheer, greeted like the savior that he was on the night. Landon Donovan was one of the last to leave, and his procession was also slow. Partly due to people rushing to the side of the car, but also just because it's Landon we're talking about here. Landon knows how to give back to the fans, and with a rolled down window he shook hands and graciously accepted the words of appreciation heaped on him.
Soon the pilots drove bye, receiving a huge applause. They were followed by a police car that had been stationed there, which also received a thunderous applause. I have never seen a police car receive so much love from a crowd of people. Cozmo soon emerged holding the Western Conference trophy, and people began to gather around him while others worked their way back to their cars.
It had been a wonderful night. A true adventure, and one which reminded me every stop of the game, why I was ever drawn to this sport in the first place. It's the passion. A passion you don't find anywhere else and I felt truly fortunate that I got to re-experience what it's like to truly feel the game, with all my heart in that truly special way that makes soccer supporters so unique.