“I always remember historic moments,” said LAFC Lead Managing Owner Larry Berg. “I think this [today] falls in that category.”
It seemed like a typical Wednesday night in Los Angeles during the COVID-19 pandemic. The streets were mostly quiet, with many people staying home due to the rising number of cases in the city. But for LAFC and some of their biggest supporters, there was the hint of something special in the air.
A group of approximately 99 LAFC supporters were invited to partake in a Zoom meeting for a historic virtual first meeting with Korean international defender Kim Moon-Hwan, days before his official signing was announced by the Club.
“No other club is going to call in their supporters to make an announcement before it goes public,” said attendee Sam 'Slim' Koda.
But there was something even more important happening on the call than simply getting an early chance to say hello to an LAFC player. It was an affirmation that one of the Club’s earliest promises was still alive and well.
“I'm just blown away. I didn't think this would happen this quickly, so really thank you to everybody who made this possible,” said Su Jin Lee, one of the founding members of the Tigers Supporter’s Group, blotting tears from her eyes. “I don't think a lot of people realize how big this is for us as the Korean community, as an Asian community, to see someone that is like us on the field representing a Club that we loved so much.”
Before we go further, a quick history lesson:
To “Unite the world’s city through the world’s game,” was one of the first missions that any newcomer who joined the Los Angeles Football Club promised to uphold when the Club launched in 2014 as the city’s newest Major League Soccer club. LAFC leadership believed that the reality of the city’s massive urban sprawl could lead to a diverse fan culture and create the bastion of football culture it has become today.
Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the country - a city brimming with fashion, cuisine, film, and creativity, and also robust ethnic communities that often operate separately in their own enclaves. Communities such as Little Armenia, greater home to the largest Armenian American population in the country; Chinatown, where you can visit and see month-long Chinese New Year celebrations; Leimert Park Village, a center of black American artistic life and culture featuring clubs hearkening back to the heyday of the Central Avenue jazz scene; Historic Olvera Street, where the city was originally founded by Spanish settlers from Mexico, along with many other communities.
LAFC’s brazen goal was to bring together all of these various communities under one banner, utilizing the biggest sport in the world. Urging fans to make history and take part in a new project in their own backyard they could own.
Now, enter L.A.’s dynamic Korean community. Koreatown, home to the largest Korean population outside the Korean Peninsula itself, is one of the most prominent communities in Los Angeles. As the 3252 Supporters Union began organically shaping itself across the city, it was only natural that a Korean supporters group would form and jump into the community pot that was already boiling in anticipation of LAFC’s first kick.
From their telling, the few members of the LAFC Korean community were immediately accepted into the Black & Gold community, and in 2017, the Tigers Supporters Group (TSG) was born. The group was small. It was tough to drum up support in the community for a Club that hadn’t yet played a match.
“I remember when we were like 15 strong. We would look around [at 3252 council meetings] at everybody like damn, they have 50-60 people, when are we ever going to be like that,” said TSG member Daniel 'Deech' Chung. “But with everyone’s support in the 3252, we got to where we are now, and it’s just going to get better.”
Deech and others could see the rumblings in the community. TSG shirts began making appearances at the 3252 drum circles before opening night. LAFC watch parties began popping up in K-Town bars. LAFC’s inaugural season began and TSG was in the thick of the North End. During LAFC matches Korean flags could be seen from all angles of Banc of California Stadium, yet TSG and the Club were yearning for more.
In 2019, the Club announced the launch of an LAFC / Korean merchandise collaboration designed by artist Hokeun Choi, his homage to and take on old Korean neon signs. The first of its kind in MLS, the Korean merchandise collection was another example of how seriously the Club took its responsibility to represent all of Los Angeles, but there was something STILL missing, until now.
As the Zoom call introducing new LAFC right-back Kim Moon-Hwan went on, even over the computer, it was obvious how much the signing meant to the members of TSG.
“When we started this, it was always a labor of love and I always remember historic moments,” LAFC Lead Managing Owner Larry Berg, who was present on the call as well, said. “For me, it always has to do with community, and it has to do with just the love of soccer. I think this falls in that category.”
The excitement was not just on one side of the Zoom call, as it was apparent from the start that Moon chose to come to LAFC for more than just the bright lights of Los Angeles. From checking out LAFC on YouTube and Instagram, it was clear to him that he wanted to play for LAFC.
“Seeing just how passionate the supporters are, it made me want to play in an environment like that in front of all the fans,” Moon said. “And of course, you can't talk about L.A. without talking about the Korean community.”
Moon’s journey with LAFC is just beginning, but if his introduction last week was any indication, his presence in Los Angeles is going to be special for many years to come.
For more information of the Tigers Supporter Group (TSG), visit their website tsglafc.com or on Instagram and Twitter @lafc_tsg and Facebook @LAFCTSG.