To the victors go the parking. And Christmas Tree Lane. And the MLS Cup.
The day after more than 20,000 Los Angelenos descended on Exposition Park by foot, public transportation and rideshare to witness an MLS Cup classic between their beloved Los Angeles Football Club and the Philadelphia Union, nearly 5,000 returned Sunday, filling the parking lots that surrounded Banc of California Stadium which had been set aside for USC football 24 hours earlier.
Saturated in Black & Gold, Christmas Tree Lane, the grass area outside the stadium that usually buzzes with LAFC supporters on matchdays, was bookended by two enormous replica MLS Cup trophies while the throng celebrated the team’s first championship.
Mariachi Las Catrinas, an all-female mariachi group from the Boyle Heights neighborhood that regularly performed before matches, serenaded the crowd to kickoff festivities as the sun descended behind the stage while the L.A. Memorial Coliseum sat quiet in the background.
Fronted by the “3252” independent supporters group, a pair of doubledecker busses circled while players popped champagne bottles and passed around the trophies they won in 2022 — the club’s second Supporters’ Shield, the Western Conference title and, of course, the MLS Cup following a stunning match that ended 3-3 before LAFC won on penalties.
“Our mantra since Day 1 has been to unite the world’s city through the world’s game,” said LAFC managing owner Larry Berg. “And I know we live in divided times but the sense of community and diversity at our games means everything to us. Our fans have always been the heartbeat of our club. We have the best fans in the world and we couldn’t have done this without you. Literally, this championship is for you.”
Berg called head coach Steve Cherundolo “the real coach of the year,” an award that ultimately went to Philadelphia’s Jim Curtin.
“LAFC is not about one person or a small group of people,” Cherundolo, who set a record for most wins in his first year (21) before lifting the MLS Cup, said. “Thank you after a rocky start, I must say. Thank you for welcoming me with open arms and making me part of your family. I love to say thank you to the players for believing in us as a staff.”
Four players could not participate.
Goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, hailed as a hero after undergoing successful surgery on Sunday to repair the fractured right leg he suffered late in the championship match, was honored with his jersey hanging on the dais.
The 28-year-old Canadian national team player was shown via FaceTime and the crowd chanted his name when his wife, Cristina Dagenais, read a statement on his behalf.
“Guys, we did it!” she read. “This one’s for you Los Angeles. And this is only the beginning.”
LAFC’s Ecuadorian trio — Sebastian Mendez, Jose Cifuentes and Diego Palacios, who assisted on the latest goal in MLS history (Gareth Bale’s equalizer in the 128th minute) — were busy preparing to join their national team for the upcoming World Cup.
MLS Cup most valuable player John McCarthy, who took over for Crepeau in goal, was still riding high from his perfect performance in penalties. The Philadelphia native danced, cursed and showed off his MVP award.
“If my voice is lost it’s because I (expletive) partied so much last night,” said McCarthy, whom Berg labeled “our Rudy” in an homage to the iconic Notre Dame Fighting Irish underdog.
McCarthy was hardly the only person on stage or watching from Christmas Tree Lane who could have said that.
John Thorrington, LAFC head of soccer operations and co-president, was raspy, too.
“This is one of hopefully many that we can celebrate together,” Thorrington said while wearing an In-N-Out Burgers t-shirt. “We set out as a club. We knew this was a city of champions. We’ve seen it before. And now LAFC is a champion in this city. You deserve it. Let’s go.”
Jubilant fans showed off freshly inked tattoos that memorialized the club’s first MLS championship.
Others asked for more.
“Concacaf next!” they yelled.