Late last year I spent a roller coaster of a day with two groups comprised of some very passionate soccer fans. The groups – the Union Ultras and Black Army 1850 – were two cheering sections for the now defunct Chivas USA soccer team and the event we were all there for was the final game of the team’s existence following the announcement that the owner would be selling the franchise back to MLS, who in turn would be shutting it down for good. Chivas USA soccer had occupied much of these fans’ lives for the past 10 years and was moments away from vanishing into thin air. But the fans were not about to go quietly into the night.
The assignment was for Howler magazine, a beautifully produced quarterly publication focused on all-things pro soccer, who just published a great article by Mark Edward Hornish that tells the back story of the franchise and the two fan groups. Therefore I won’t go into too much of the history of the club or why there are two fan clubs instead of one. But I will say that being there was quite an experience.
The day started out generally calm as the two groups gathered in their respective areas on the northern exterior of the Stub Hub Center in Carson, Calif., to tailgate before the game got underway. There was plentiful beer and homemade food, including a pot of homemade birria, or goat stew, that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. They were so hospitable, I of course had to try some. Everyone was in fairly good spirits considering the knowledge that this would be the last time they all gathered for this tradition. But as the game got underway things quickly intensified. For the next 90 minutes there was a constant clamor as the groups banged drums, waved flags, tossed streamers, cheered and chanted through the entirety of the match. The fervor spiked when the Chivas scored a goal against their opponents, the San Jose Earthquakes, late in the first half, giving them the chance to go out with a win. With my eyes on the fans, I had no idea what was happening in the game, but could get a sense of the action by watching their faces. As the second half progressed, the energy and the cheering continued to swell, coming to a crescendo in the final minutes and punctuated with the release of two smoke bombs that engulfed the Union Ultras in a pink cloud of sulfuric smoke. Between the breathless singing and the cloud of fumes it’s a wonder no one passed out. Finally, the final whistle blew and the bubble burst, sending many of them into uncontrollable, cathartic sobs that continued until the teams had left the field. The Chivas had won, ensuring them a tiny victory in that they would not finish the season in last place. Many of the players stopped by the fans’ sections to thank them and sign autographs on their way out. A weird combination of sporting event and funeral, it was a unique experience, both exciting and heartbreaking to witness.
Following the match the fans seemed resilient as they gathered to eat at a post-game barbecue the club hosted for the fans. Those I saw afterward seemed to have left it all on the field and were now calm and resigned to the fact that it was all over. Smiles returned to their faces as they joked and enjoyed their food and friends in the afternoon sun. There was already talk that the MLS might be creating a new team in LA, but no one knew for sure at that moment. The next day the MLS did in fact issue a statement that the team was officially shut down. In the following weeks there was also an announcement that a new team would likely be coming to LA in the future. The article goes further into this, but at least there’s hope that they may soon be able to cheer for a new team. Most of them despise the Galaxy, so that’s out of the question. Whatever happens, the next object of their enthusiasm will be very fortunate. Here’s hoping it’s not long before they find it.