An LAFC pillar that rung true from even before its inaugural season in 2018 and still continues today. Originally announced on October 30, 2014, Los Angeles Football Club entered the already crowded Los Angeles sports marketplace looking to make an immediate impact. MLS commissioner Don Garber said on the launch day, "This visionary ownership group will chart a course that will further elevate the sport in this great city and, combined with a new state-of-the-art stadium, accelerate us down the path toward becoming one of the top soccer leagues in the world.”
As the Black & Gold approaches its sixth anniversary, the group indeed has already elevated the sport, along with its local community in a variety of ways. First, let’s rewind back to 2015. One of the first moves the ownership group made was to involve locals with the creation of the club identity, hosting the first of many town hall events at Eat Drink Americano in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District, where owners and the few-then employees discussed potential names and colors with a group of future fans.
The Club’s identity as we now know it was born on January 7, 2016, with the backdrop of Los Angeles’s Union Station filling the hearts and minds of those in attendance, and the Club’s fan-first attitude began showing in those early days.
The Club then moved to constructing the $350 million Banc of California Stadium in downtown Los Angeles, a project spearheaded by unique first-in-MLS stadium financing and refinancing transactions. The LEED GOLD certified Stadium was built to provide an unrivaled guest experience, and in another piece of its history, created an innovative safe standing, rail seating Supporters’ Section that arose out of those same open town hall-like design sessions with fans, supporters, owners and the stadium architects, Gensler.
The Club wanted to involve the local community too, with the project featuring
A Project Labor Agreement (PLA), and over 3,000 jobs created (1,200 construction and 1,800 operations), 40% local hiring and 35% MBE/WBE hires.
“A lot of people didn’t think that this fabulous facility would be completed, but it has been, and it’s one of the best facilities not only in all of soccer, but in any major sport,” said legendary Los Angeles Sportscaster Jim Hill. “It just goes to show you that here in Los Angeles we are, indeed, the sports capital of the world.”
With the stadium construction underway, LAFC had to find a suitable on-field product to match the stellar new soccer-specific accommodations. The Club started by announcing its first head coach, Bob Bradley, on July 28, 2017 with fans in tow, their chants of “Bob the Builder” filling the hallowed walls of L.A.’s Natural History Museum.
Then came the Club’s first designated player, Carlos Vela, announced under the wings of the Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center. To round out their tour of Exposition Park, next the Club had to finish a structure of their own.
All the other major pieces started to come together, as LAFC filled out their roster with more talent, including the likes of current MLS leading scorer Diego Rossi, MLS All-Star Mark-Anthony Kaye, and another major piece to round out the soccer facilities, a brand new world class training facility on the campus of Cal State University Los Angeles.
This new facility would also be shared by the LAFC Youth Academy who originally formed in 2016, its first batch of U-12’s growing alongside the Club.
“It starts with our philosophy, which is that we want our academy to form the backbone of our first team,” then-newly hired Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager John Thorrington told MLSsoccer.com. Thorrington and LAFC Academy Director Todd Saldaña knew the Los Angeles market as a youth soccer hotbed, and set on their way to grow the next generation of local stars, providing a free program and a new point of access to the beautiful game.
History was being made in other areas of the organization as well in 2018. The Club unveiled a landmark local television deal with YouTube TV, becoming the first partnership of its kind in North American professional sports where all locally televised matches are available on a live TV streaming provider.
The next major step in LAFC’s journey was on the pitch, and success came early. Beginning the 2018 MLS campaign with six matches away from home, the Black & Gold won its opening two matches by a combined score of 6-1. LAFC pulled together a record number of points (12) by an MLS team to start a season on the road.
The Ribbon Cutting event on April 18, 2018 could not come fast enough, and the Club managed to sell through its entire existing 2018 season-tickets before playing a match. The fan’s wait was worth it though, and by the time LAFC returned home to open Banc of California Stadium on April 29 with a 1-0 victory in the dying seconds against the Seattle Sounders, the team was in the midst of a six-match unbeaten run. A win against Minnesota United and two more subsequent draws brought LAFC’s points-total through 10 matches to 20, a record total for an expansion team to start the season. LAFC’s then 22 goals, also an MLS record for an expansion team, became an early sign of the exciting style of play Bob Bradley put together in four short months.
Another unbeaten streak was punctuated by a 4-2 win at defending MLS Cup Champions Toronto FC. The win was LAFC’s sixth away from home, a total besting the 2015 Orlando City team for most by an expansion team in its inaugural season. LAFC would end 2018 with a total of seven wins away from home. Just two teams in the Western Conference finished with more.
That seventh away win of LAFC’s season came with added significance. A 3-0 win at the Colorado Rapids secured the Club’s place in the 2018 MLS Cup playoffs. LAFC became the fifth expansion team in MLS history to guarantee postseason play in its first season. And with three matches remaining, LAFC had yet another chapter to rewrite in the MLS history books.
A win over the Houston Dynamo catapulted LAFC past Atlanta United’s 2017 points total of 55 and level with the 1998 Chicago Fire for the most points by an MLS team in its expansion season. Earning a point in the final regular-season home match of 2018, LAFC set the new standard for a first-year team in MLS with 57 points. Although the Club was knocked out of the first round of the playoffs by RSL, a high standards was surely set.
Returning 16 players from the inaugural season, LAFC picked up where it left off in year two and continued to make history. The Black and Gold sat atop the league table from Week 4 of the season and never looked back. Behind the most goals scored and fewest conceded throughout the season, the Club ran away with the top spot in the Western Conference, securing its first taste of international football in 2020 in the Concacaf Champions League.
On September 25, in a 3-1 victory against the Houston Dynamo, LAFC and its Supporters lifted the first trophy in Club history. The Supporters’ Shield was Black & Gold. The Club became only the 13th ever to lift the trophy and the first to claim a stake to the best team of the MLS regular season in just a year after an expansion season.
In a fitting end to a MLS regular season where head coach Bob Bradley orchestrated a year that produced the most points in a regular season (72), with three more wins and two fewer losses than the next closest teams, he was awarded the Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year award, his third all-time, joining New England Revolution head coach Bruce Arena with the most in MLS history.
Firsts and history continued into the 2019 MLS Playoffs, with the Black and Gold defeating crosstown rivals LA Galaxy 5-3 in the Western Conference Semifinal in a match that saw MVP Carlos Vela netting two goals and an assist, and forwards Adama Diomande and Diego Rossi adding statement goals to finish off the night.
Following a historic season for the record books - most points in a season (72), best goal differential (+48), fastest to clinch a playoff spot (25 Games), fastest Club to 100 points (53), most points in a Club’s first two seasons (129), most goals by a duo (50 - Carlos Vela / Diego Rossi), most shots (621), Supporters’ Shield, tied for most goals scored in a regular season (85 – tied with ’98 Galaxy), least losses in an MLS season (4 – ‘05 San Jose Earthquakes / ‘10 Real Salt Lake / ‘10 FC Dallas) - but after finally overcoming its bitter rival to advance to within one match of the MLS Cup, LAFC fell short. A 3-1 loss to the eventual champion Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference Finals put an end to the historic season.
Despite the playoff loss, LAFC forward Carlos Vela had arguably the best single season in MLS ever. Over the course of his 31 matches played, he never went more than one game without scoring. The LAFC captain had streaks of four and five matches with at least one goal. He finished the season on a nine-match scoring streak, including a hat trick on the final day.
Vela set a new MLS records for goals in a season (34), most combined goals and assists by a single player (34 / 15) and fastest player to score 20 goals (21 games). He also led the league in shots, shots on goal, goals away from home, and goals per 90. Vela led the league in penalties scored with nine, and also led the league in non-penalty goals with 25 – also a record. Ultimately, Vela’s season resulted in both MVP honors and Golden Boot honors, setting a new standard for years to come.
LAFC was making history off the pitch as well. The Club was showered with too many local and national honors to list, but included such honors as: 2019 Fast Company list of Most Innovative Companies in The World, Best Employer in Sports List for 2019 – Front Office Sports, Front Office Of The Year – Independent Supporters Council, Los Angeles Business Council Hospitality & Attractions and Grand Prize Winner and an Adweek’s L.A. Brand Star winner. They won the league awards for Ticket Sales Team Of The Year, Business Analytics Team of the Year, setting the record for highest ticketing revenue in a regular season match in MLS history and sold out all season ticket memberships (17,500) for the 2019 & 2020 season.
The Club also continued to push ahead on the technology side, installing SKIDATA, the industry’s most advanced access control entrance platforms featuring the first-ever wireless turnstiles at main gates and pedestals. They moved to partner with CLEAR, the privatized security company, and introduced biometric technology to enable contact-less entry. They also created fan experience features like easy mobile ticketing, digital parking passes and an interactive LAFC mobile app.
LAFC’s third season in 2020 kicked off in similar fashion, beginning with a win over expansion Inter Miami FC and a draw against the Philadelphia Union. The Club advanced past Liga MX’s Club Leon in the first round of the CONCACAF Champion League, on a wild 3-0 win in the second leg of the series, coming back from a two-goal deficit to mark a historic statement win over one of the top teams in Mexico.
The stage was set to continue another exciting season and run through international play, but the COVID-19 global pandemic shut down the sports world on March 12. The MLS season was officially suspended as the league and sports world reeled from the inability to host live events, and it looked like LAFC’s history making could be over after a total of just four games.
Unable to take the pitch, the Club immersed itself in the community, launching numerous efforts to help Los Angeles navigate the new normal. LAFC launched the Black and Gold Community Relief Fund, an effort to raise critical dollars earmarked to support its community that has been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, hosted food giveaways, blood drives with the American Red Cross and worked hand in hand with the L.A. Mayor’s office to help distribute critical COVID-19 safety information.
After several months of planning, MLS returned with the MLS Is Back Tournament in a “bubble” like setting in Orlando. The Black & Gold were sent home by Orlando City SC in the Quarterfinals of the MLS is Back tournament by way of penalties, but not before picking up five regular season points in the group stage with ties against Houston and Portland and a win over the Galaxy. Without Carlos Vela missing the tournament to remain in Los Angeles with his pregnant wife, Diego Rossi took a sudden star turn, breaking out and earning the Golden Boot for the MLS Is Back tournament, a place on the Best XI and the Best Young Player award.
As the season continued in empty venues across the country without fans, LAFC was faced with the toughest on-field adversity it had faced in its three-year history. Vela was lost for nearly 10 weeks with a knee injury suffered against the Galaxy on Aug. 22, and the Black & Gold were forced to play major parts of the season without Eduard Atuesta, Tristan Blackmon and Mark-Anthony Kaye due to injury.
On July 8, 2020, LAFC signed its first ever former Academy players to Homegrown First Team contracts, realizing Thorrington’s original vision of what the Club’s youth program could be - “the backbone” of the Club. As planned, the young players Tony Leone (16-years-old), Christian Torres (16-years-old) and Erik Dueñas (15-years-old) immediately stepped into their first team roles with seamless efficiency.
On October 14, 16-year-old Christian Torres become the first-ever former Academy product to start an MLS match, becoming the youngest MLS player to earn a start on the season. That same day, 15-year-old Erik Dueñas, the second of the three Academy signings, entered the match in the 71st minute and at 15 years, 362 days became the third youngest player to appear in an MLS match in league history, behind only Freddy Adu and Alphonso Davies. Eleven games after his first appearance on August 30th, Torres became the first-ever Academy product to score an MLS goal, an equalizer against the Portland Timbers late in stoppage time, netting more history for the youth movement of the Club.
LAFC clinched a third consecutive playoff spot on Oct. 28, 2020 and the Club is aiming to make another deep run in the MLS Cup Playoffs – just like ownership envisioned six years ago.