William Valverde of the Los Angeles Red Army breaks down the recent match between rival supporter groups.
A friendly competition against Los Angeles-area supporter groups of rival clubs had been tossed around for many years. For some of us, it was the romanticized notion of defending the crest on the chest. For others it was the idea of taking the results into your own hands, like putting yourself on beginner mode in FIFA and hanging 10 goals on the team that defeated yours that weekend. For others, it was all about one more taste of the glory days gone by.
Thanks in no small part to the leaders of MULA and the LA Blues, a match was finally scheduled for the 16th of November. This inaugural supporter group match-up saw the Manchester United Fans of Los Angeles take on the Los Angeles Chelsea Blues.
It was a mild November day in Los Angeles, the kind of day that remind us why we choose to live in this city. The weather was absolutely perfect for a match, with clear sunny skies and a light breeze. The field at Columbia Park in Torrance, CA did the job. Sure, it was no Old Trafford, but it had all the elements needed for a match and featured regulation goals. It was also nice to have a natural field and not the plastic turf that has become so common in drought-conscious California.
Both teams started to arrive, and it was obvious that the teams would be as diverse as the members that fill the pubs on weekend mornings. It was a melting pot of cultures, ages, and body types stretching, warming up and making preparations for the match at hand.
The referees arrived and teams were soon figuring out their starting 11 and formations. We only had one obvious keeper, and a young center back standing over six feet tall who was good friends with the left back. They were our Rio and Evra, in position, stature and chemistry. I got lucky enough to land a starting role just behind Patch Moore at striker.
We did well to control initial possession, but a defensive error cost us the first goal. We brushed it off and kept playing decent through balls out wide and over the top. Patch was unlucky not to score when he hit the post on one of his first attempts. Now down 0-2, we drew a penalty that breathed some life into us and got us back into the game. Both teams made a few substitutions, and with some new players showing up the match really opened up. After a very good run of possession and some great link-up play, the Reds had stormed back from two goals down to take a 4-2 lead. The Red Army was marching on and victory was in our grasp.
I can’t tell you exactly what went wrong from there, but it all fell apart rather quickly. The consensus is that too many substitutions to accommodate playing time, along with just plain hubris, found us giving up two late goals that leveled the match at 4-4 and put us into extra time.
Both teams picked their best squads, re-laced their boots, and took the pitch once more. Like Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters going into the 5th round of a title fight, everything hurt, everything bled, but none of that mattered. The next goal would possibly decide that match. When the whistle blew and play resumed, both teams had their second wind. The Reds were fueled by the rage of having given up two late goals, and the Blues were fueled by the improbability of their comeback.
The LA Red Army took early control of possession and showed some attacking prowess. Then, out of nowhere, a bad pass by a Blue winger briefly confused our center back who deflected it in while trying to clear. We had given up the lead on an own goal. The Reds on the pitch seemed to exhale and collapse simultaneously, and even those on the sidelines were leveled by this run of bad luck. With our backs flat on the grass and eyes towards the sky, we tried to convince ourselves there was still enough time.
The match restarted and we pressed on, trying to channel some of that “never say die” attitude that our club’s history was founded on. However, the Chelsea defense played their cards well and saw out the final moments to earn a hard fought victory.
There are few things that any player, pro or pub rat, looks forward to more than the next match. We are in negotiations to schedule a return leg. Hopefully it wont’ be too long until we take the pitch again.