By Jeremy Gonzalez
Living in California means we get arguably the best weather in the country. Bright sunshine, clear skies, and a light breeze almost every day guaranteeing that any sporting event will be a delight to watch. It’s something we Angelinos take for granted.
So how the hell did I find myself last weekend watching a soccer match 1,500 miles away, drenched in sweat while standing with strangers with the sun blazing down as humidity filled the air? Well those strangers and I shared a bond: we all chose to make the trip to watch our favorite soccer team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, take on a Western Conference rival, the Houston Dynamo, in each team’s final regular season game.
We knew that traveling halfway across the country wouldn’t be easy and that our blue, white and gold would be overshadowed by the thousands of Dynamo fans wearing orange, but we still decided to make the trip and cheer on our boys as they fought to secure a home playoff game in the upcoming MLS postseason.
Being the away fans at a game meant we were the bad guys. We’re cheering for the villains who came to spoil the home team’s party. We got dirty looks and profanity shouted in our direction by people of all ages. Many people shouted banter at us about our team and we got obscene gestures involving a certain finger from many opposing fans.
As we made the quarter-mile march in overwhelming humidity from a local bar to the stadium, we were met with boos at every corner. But there were about 200 of us who flew to Houston, and we were ready: our chants in response growing louder with each group of Dynamo fans we passed.
“We love ya, we love ya, we love ya, and everywhere we’ll follow, we’ll follow, we’ll follow, ‘cause we support LA, LA, LA, and that’s the way we like it, we like it, we like it, woah woah woah!”
For once, I understood the feeling of wearing the black hat at a sporting event. And I loved every minute of it, even if I didn’t feel comfortable walking along to the concession stand or restroom. It was a feeling I was unfamiliar with, but I welcomed the persona of being the villain in a sports match.
The final matchup in the MLS is known as Decision Day. It’s when playoff positions are solidified and you get to see who makes it to the big dance and who gets an early vacation. All 12 games involving all 24 MLS teams began at the same time, so we had to keep one eye on the general scoreboard to see what was going on in the other matches, while the other eye was on the match unfolding right before us.
This Decision Day matchup had huge implications for the MLS playoff seeding. The Galaxy needed a victory in Houston to clinch a home playoff game in the first round. There was a chance that they could even host two playoff games, depending on the outcome of the other matches. There was also a chance that forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic would claim the MLS Golden Boot award, which is given to the player who has the most goals at the end of the season. The race for the Golden Boot was going to be a photo finish as Ibrahimovic and Carlos Vela from rival LAFC were competing in the two-horse race.
All the Galaxy fans knew the monumental impact of this match. We were fired up. As if that wasn’t enough, fans still clearly remembered last season’s Decision Day when the Dynamo traveled to Carson and ruined the Galaxy’s playoff hopes by coming back from a two-goal deficit to win 3-2, single-handedly eliminating them from the postseason. Fans were extremely disappointed with the team then and hoped to exact revenge this time around.
Although our seats were tucked into the upper corner of the stadium, we were fully invested from the moment the starting whistle blew and for the two hours that followed, we stood in 95-degree weather with the sun glaring down at us as we chanted and sang with other Galaxy fans in attendance. We celebrated every goal passionately, with water flying from water bottles being waved around and fans high-fiving and hugging in celebration.
Unfortunately, the Galaxy lost 4-2, which meant we wouldn’t host a playoff game and Ibrahimovic didn’t win the Golden Boot race as he fell four goals shy of Vela. As heartbroken as we were, we still sang and chanted even after the game was over. Dynamo fans were taunting us since they had spoiled our Decision Day festivities for a second straight season. We threw playful jabs back at them saying that we were still in the playoffs while they were going straight to their couches after the final match.
Cheering for your favorite team at home is always a fun experience, especially when you’re surrounded by thousands of fans who share the same love for the team as you. But I now have more respect for soccer fans who travel to watch their team perform in a hostile environment. It is never easy when you’re the underdog or outnumbered by the home fans, but it was definitely an experience I won’t forget and this was certainly not the last time I will be traveling to support my favorite team on the road in a rivalry game.