So there I was on a Saturday night, July 15th to be exact, at the StubHub Center, which is the name of the stadium in Carson which is itself a small city of 100,000, located 13 miles south of Downtown LA and about a half hour from Santa Monica. It’s a very nice stadium. It was opened in 2003 and was called the Home Depot Center for its first decade. It seats 27,000 and is both the second venue developed specifically for Major League Soccer (MLS) and the second largest MLS soccer stadium. It is home to the LA Galaxy, and the LA Chargers are playing there until their new stadium at Hollywood Park, in Inglewood near LAX, opens.
I was there for a match between the Galaxy and Manchester United of the English Premier League (MU). Although most often I write about high culture and cultural events, sitting with some 25,000 other people at an event was, at least to me, a worthy pop cultural event.
LA Galaxy vs Manchester United
Now, there’s also a little bit of backstory here: My father, once upon a time, played soccer – as legend has it that he played on the second string of the Polish National team. This is before World War Two in his native city of Lvov (now called Lviv), in a part of Poland which is now Ukraine. For my part, I played soccer on my high school team (I was a co-captain) and briefly my freshman year in college.
Once upon a time, playing soccer was counter-cultural. At my high school, soccer attracted neither the crowds, nor the support that the football team did. Our team was filled with guys with long hair and red eyes. It was a collegial sport – back then playing the sport didn’t improve your chances for any college. This was the era of the North American Soccer League and the Cosmos – a brave experiment that despite the soccer great Pele and hitmaker Ahmet Ertegun met with baffled reactions and little attention from American sports fans.
My daughter played soccer in high school and is herself a Manchester United fan. She has grown up in the era of World Cup winning U.S. Women’s Soccer Teams. For her playing soccer was an almost year-round event with club teams dragging the season out until April or May. To her, Beckham, Ronaldo and Messi were household names. She often watches MU games on her laptop or cellphone.
I had reached out to Galaxy management with the pitch that I wanted to write about a father-daughter night watching the Galaxy play Manchester United. I explained that I was more than willing to pay for tickets. I just wanted good seats without paying a scalper. Let me disclose that instead the Galaxy organization comped me for two tickets, up a bunch of rows from the South-East corner. I was all set to write about the evening.
That was the plan. That saying about best laid plans certainly applies to plans with my 19 year-old daughter who, in age-appropriate fashion — is prone to last minute crises, late arrivals and change of plans. Or in other words, she flaked on me.
Which is why I arrived by myself to the StubHub Center where the parking was reasonable — that is for stadium parking ($20) — and reasonably close to the actual stadium. And although I came alone, I found the stadium full (I had to dislodge squatters in my seat – who did not leave, just moved over) and very much a sea of Red– MU Fans.
The last time MU played the Galaxy the score was 7-0. This time, it was apparent MU was treating their games in the US as a sort of pre-season training vacation. They were well rested and had been winning most of their games.
By contrast, the Galaxy had been playing game after game in their season and had been on a losing streak. Curt Onalfo, the Galaxy’s coach, was skating on thin ice. Expectations were not great for the Galaxy, but MU defused disappointment by promising a “friendly game.” Also adding a little spice to the evening MU teased that the Galaxy game could feature the first appearance by Romelu Lukaku who joined MU on July 10th.
And so, the game began. From the first MU came off as more polished, with crisper passes and better ball control. Two minutes into the game MU’s Marcus Rashford scored his first goal. 19 minutes in Rashford was given a beautiful pass and pretty much ran the ball into the goal, scoring again. Then at 25 minutes, Marouane Fellaini, the Belgian player of Morrocan heritage whose been with MU since 2013 was passed the ball and off his left foot placed the ball deep into corner of the goal,. At Half-Time the score was 3-0. Brian Rowe, the Galaxy’s goalie, didn’t look very happy.
It’s funny, all the reasons why Americans wouldn’t watch professional soccer in its first American outing several decades ago – the game’s too slow, there’s not enough action, the scores are too low, games can end in shoot-outs – those are the very reasons watching the game is now enjoyable. The short pass game that has come to dominate soccer makes for what we now call “the beautiful game.’ And the internationalism of the sport (Belgians and French players on English teams; British ones on American teams) makes the game of interest to all. Soccer has become a common denominator among people of different cultures in the American melting pot – a bright spot at a time and in a country where the rhetoric leads in the opposite direction.
The second half didn’t start better. At 66 minutes, Henrikh Mkhitaryan (who is also captain of the Armenian National Team) found himself alone in front of the gall and was able to send the ball past the goalie. At 72 minutes, Anthony Martial got a great pass and with a strong right foot scored MU’s fifth goal. 5-0 was a disheartening turn of events for all. Just like a superhero movie is only as good as its villain, a soccer match needs two teams going at it full bore to create the tension and anticipation that each goal releases.
Giovanni Dos Santos courtesy of LA Galaxy
Finally, 78 minutes in, the Galaxy’s Gio Dos Santos took a shot and with his right foot sent the ball into the net. A great touch. The crowd was ecstatic – a little dignity regained. Then shortly thereafter at the 87th minute, the Galaxy got a corner shot. The kick floated above the goal. David Romney headed it in, bouncing off Santos into the goal for 5-2. “Makes the score look a lot better,” was one Brit’s comment. And then the game was over.
When you watch soccer on TV, the advances in image resolution and camera work, allow one to see the play and the strategy in the game up close. However, nothing can compare to the experience of sitting in a stadium with thousands of other fans, cheering (and on occasion screaming) at the players and the referees. That communal feeling is also in short supply in these United States these days.
The Galaxy fans were troopers. The MU fans were for the most part fun and revved up – save for the occasional Hooligan wannabe – whose volcanic screams and incitements to violence I could have done without (or found at a poltical rally). That being said, I was happy to be outside on a warm beautiful night in a comfortable stadium at a friendly soccer game in Carson. Which makes me think that in the words of the immortal Johnny Carson, “We’ll be right back.”Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2017 Tommywood