Wherever Los Angeles Football Club has traveled in its brief two-year history, its supporters have followed. One thousand of them went to the team’s first-ever international match in León, Mexico on Feb. 18. The stadium in León is about 1,600 miles away from Banc of California stadium, where the team typically plays.
On game day, LAFC supporters have a tailgate next to the stadium hours before the match. In this case, all the supporter groups came together in the parking lot of a chicken wing restaurant a few blocks from the stadium. And the crowd grew to engulf the plaza.
This tailgate before the match against Club León was easily one of the greatest tailgates in Los Angeles Football Club history. The supporters went to one bar, took over the bar across the street, spilled into the area between the two bars, and then established a third location with several boxes of beers in the parking lot.
Club León's supporters and Mexican motorists alike were impressed by LAFC's supporters. They interacted with the fans and were patient with them when it came time to move a car. LAFC fans. This tailgate lasted four hours before fans marched toward the stadium.
The León Police Department determined the route for the fans’ march, which took them down the residential side streets of León rather than the area's main roadways.
It took one hour to trek from the parking lot to the stadium -- due to the convoluted path and the sheer number of people marching. LAFC supporters were singing the entire way. They were flanked by police on foot and horseback. Curious bystanders watched.
León isn't the farthest distance LAFC fans have traveled en mass. The club took hundreds of supporters to New York City during the 2019 Major League Soccer season. However, LAFC's supporters set out to make a statement with how many fans traveled to León. Regardless of the outcome on the field, the fans successfully sent their message.
"Coming out here this strong is showing Mexico -- not only in Mexico but the world -- that we're the real deal," said 3252 (the name of LAFC’s umbrella supporter group) President Jimmy Lopez. "We travel everywhere. We don't just travel to Portland or New York. It's like, no, this is international. We care about our community, our culture and our team so much that if we can make it, we're here.
The match began just after 9 p.m., only a few minutes after LAFC fans had settled into their section.
On the field, LAFC star Carlos Vela, who was playing his first professional match in his native Mexico, was booed by León's fans every time he touched the ball.
Vela is widely considered the best Mexican player in the world right now, but his decision not to play for the Mexican national team makes his relationship with Mexican soccer fans a complex one.
León's players gave Vela and his teammates a similarly rough reception on the field. The match was one of the most physically demanding games LAFC has played in its short history.
León also did a better job of attacking LAFC's defense, leading to a 2-0 victory for León that LAFC will try to come back from in the second leg of the 16-round matchup on Thursday, Feb. 27.
LAFC's supporters stayed active for the entire match -- and so were the 18,000 León fans. After the match, as the LAFC fans waited to leave the stadium (home fans leave first), León fans appeared to applaud the LAFC group for their effort on and off the field.
In terms of football, LAFC's trip to León was less than successful. The club will need a stellar performance in the second leg to maintain any hope of advancing. In the stands, however, LAFC's supporters represented the club as well as they could have under the circumstances. In the second leg, they'll have a chance to show Club León how special LAFC's support at home really is.