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LAFC and LA Galaxy Supporter Groups Reflect on Violence and Respecting Each Other Before ‘El Tràfico’

11:26 AM PDT on April 7, 2022

    "The love for a mother and for the shirt is the same. Mothers provide our first identity. Our struggle to win her love and affection is our struggle to stay alive. Every fan wants to prove that no one loves the shirt like him, and every son knows nobody loves his mother as he does." - Batuta / Rudo y Cursi (2008)

    A Sibling Rivalry

    LOS ANGELES–Replace the word mother with Los Angeles in the quote by fictional soccer scout and soccer philosopher Darío "Batuta" Vidali, and it becomes clear why the heated contest between LAFC and Los Angeles Galaxy to capture the soccer soul of L.A. only gets stronger in its passions with each passing El Tráfico.

    The tension which builds in the lead-up to each match is palpable and divides the city with its intensity. Soccer socials become a veritable toxic slog of fighting between the fan bases over everything from ticket prices to how to do the “L.A.” hand sign correctly. Paranoia sets in between both sets of supporters groups as they try to outdo each other in showing that they love their mother, Los Angeles, the best with Tifos and flags. They bicker as only brothers and sisters can do, and that is quite literally the case as lifelong best friends sometimes support “Carson” or “Chivas” in opposition and many Angeleno homes find themselves divided between Black and Gold and G’s loyalties.

    And like all sibling rivalries, the fighting occasionally goes farther than words or in this case, social media.

    Saturday’s El Tráfico between the Galaxy and LAFC is already living up to previous frenzied versions, sans violence, so far. Though, if history is any indication, this match can expect to be the scene for more of that as well. The propensity for violence at the match is such that many fans leave their youngest and oldest family members at home for it.

    The repeated violence prompted both clubs to issue a joint declaration of peace on April Fool’s day featuring both team’s stars before the clubs clash again at Dignity Health Sports Park (DHSP) on April 9.
    “To the fans of LAFC and the LA Galaxy – Let’s show the world that this game is for everyone. We wear different colors, but we are all one community,” LAFC Forward Carlos Vela is quoted in the press release.
    Galaxy Captain Javier “Chicharito” Hernández echoed the sentiment about L.A. being one community.
    “The LA Galaxy and LAFC are united in keeping this game safe for all. We may be rivals on the pitch, but as members of the Los Angeles community on match day, we should be together as one.”

    A message of unity for Los Angeles #LAGalaxy & @LAFC come together on plan for safe and enjoyable fan experience for all

    — LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) April 1, 2022

    A message of unity for Los Angeles. 🤝

    📝 #LAFC and @LAGalaxy come together on a plan for a safe and enjoyable fan experience for all.

    — LAFC (@LAFC) April 1, 2022

    But this week’s 14th episode of the Los Angeles showstopper will not only be fought on the pitch, but for the hearts and minds of L.A.’s citizens. Both clubs are locked in a battle to be the trendsetters in the still-emerging soccer culture in Los Angeles.

    Whereas some legacy clubs of England and Spain can claim hundred-year heritages, LAFC has played for just five years, while the Galaxy is one of the oldest clubs in the league but has still just competed for 27 years.

    The nascent Angeleno soccer identity is still being written, and both sides are most desperate to claim Los Angeles’ affections as their own and prove they deserve them more. Both are eager to prove they are the authors of the culture being written and their claims to “owning” the city.

    A Neighborly Start

    The clubs started even more intimately than their current proximity of twelve miles of I-110 Freeway.
    When Chivas USA was born as an MLS expansion club in 2004, they became co-occupants of what was then known as the Home Depot Center and rivals to the Galaxy in Carson. Although supporters of the Black and Gold now use “Carson” derisively in reference to the Galaxy, going so far as refusing to call them a Los Angeles team, once upon a time they shared the stands as neighbors.

    Ten volatile years of mismanagement by Chivas de Guadalajara and Chivas USA owners Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes followed, and eventually, the league's Board of Governors unanimously voted to shut down the sister club of the storied Mexican Franchise in 2014. In the same meeting, however, League Commissioner Don Garber announced the league was planning a new Los Angeles franchise that would begin play in 2017. Garber claimed, “Los Angeles deserved another chance at having two MLS teams because of its size, and large number of soccer fans and interested sponsors.”

    That second team would become LAFC.

    And from the outset, this rivalry felt different.

    Before a ball had been kicked on the field; indeed, before LAFC even had a roster, hostilities broke out in the form of a graffiti war.

    Last week: @LAFC put up a new mural in Pico-Union

    This week: @LAGalaxy fans paid it a visit pic.twitter.com/rqVc7K7NKc

    — Eric Beard (@BeardEric) May 22, 2017

    The graffiti battle then escalated to both sets of fans tagging and defacing each respective club’s advertising and billboards and hasn’t stopped until the present day, when fists being thrown and blood on the ground is horrifying but not surprising to see.

    There are documented violence, arrests, and resulting bans from each game between the clubs. These shameful scenes are examples of exactly how not to behave and can take their place alongside occurrences in Querétaro, Mexico, where 44 fans were injured in massive brawls between supporters.

    Worse still, the violence at these events does little to advance soccer culture in Los Angeles. But as the need to prove who the true Angeleno soccer club is and passions grow, a rivalry that is already the best in MLS continues to evolve, and not always for the better.

    It is a marked difference from when both sets of supporters used to share the since renovated and rechristened Victoria Block stands at a DHSP that has also gone through several name changes.

    Meet the L.A. Galaxy Supporters Groups

    Members of La Sensacion del Bloque before an L.A. Galaxy match. Cheezy pictured in the back and center. Photo provided by Cheezy
    Members of La Sensacion del Bloque before an L.A. Galaxy match. Cheezy pictured in the back and center. Photo provided by Cheezy

    The renovated Victoria Block and La Sensacion del Bloque (the block’s sensation) have been around for about as long as one another. Both took form during the worst days of the pandemic, and both are essential to the Galaxy game-day atmosphere and experience. One allows Galaxy faithful to stand safely, the other to move with reckless enjoyment.

    Usually found in the middle of V-Block, in a sea of the Galaxy’s most hardcore supporters, the drumline and brass section manages to stand out from everyone else.
    They are the elite of Galaxy supporters, the soul of the entire section, and the soundtrack of the stadium. From the beginning, however, **Cheezy has been the one they all look to, or El papa de los pollitos as some drummers from La Sensacion affectionately call him. In 2019, just after the pandemic forced MLS to cancel the season after two games, some members of Galaxy supporters groups Galaxy Outlawz, Angel City Brigade, and Galaxians, contacted him for help in learning how to drum. The role suited him, so it stuck.

    Three years later, he hasn’t missed a game, but he hasn’t watched one either. His drumming and organizing have kept him from enjoying the team he’s there to support.
    “I haven’t watched a game in three years, but what I’m doing is more important,” the Los Angeles native expressed. He’s taken his drum to San Jose, LAFC, and anywhere else he can get it into MLS stadiums and shown up the locals. Careful to give credit to the drummers that brought him into the previous version of the drumline, Los bombones, Cheezy marvels at how much the drumline and then La Sensacion have grown. But growth also means problems and the sheer size of the operation for home matches, which includes having Dignity Health Sports Park security check various flags, up to 16 self-bought drums, and several types of brass instruments for illicit weapons or offensive materials takes almost 25 minutes. It also means that while others are still enjoying the tailgate party, La Sensacion is already set up and ready to play.

    El Papa de los pollitos surveys his flock.
    El Papa de los pollitos surveys his flock. Photo by Rob Jalón/ @elescuderodela for L.A. TACO.

    For Cheezy, it's all worth it, though. “I want people to feel orgullo (pride) in what we’re doing, you know. 90 minutes of chanting and good vibes because we’re here to have a really good time and support our team,” he shared. The good vibes were apparently good enough to attract siblings, Gilberto and Biby Mendoza, two years ago. Both play in La Sensacion and both have been Galaxy fans since they were kids. It was Gilberto who named the elite drumline La Sensacion del Bloque on the day the Galaxy allowed fans back to the stadium after the worst days of the pandemic.

    “We were all excited because it was the first time we were going to play in V-Block, and we all felt like we were going to be the “sensation” when we play. I remembered an old Reggaeton song called “La sensacion del bloque,” that's when I told everyone we’d be La sensacion del bloque and everyone liked it,” Gilberto recalls. His sister, Biby, was instantly drawn to the other women in the group, feeling like she could make a place for herself amongst them. She describes seeing La Sensacion for the first time and remembering missing the game because she couldn’t look away. She compares the feeling of being in the group to a giant party; one that she gets to relive. “I want people that go to games and see us, to feel the same thing we felt when we first went. To feel goosebumps like I felt my first time,” the chef by trade shares with a huge smile.

    Members of La Sensacion del Bloque on the day they the group was born. Cheezy pictured back and left. The Mendoza siblings are pictured third and fourth from left.) (Photo provided by Cheezy.
    Members of La Sensacion del Bloque on the day they the group was born. Cheezy pictured back and left. The Mendoza siblings are pictured third and fourth from left. Photo via Cheezy.

    Baddies and Brunch

    The women of Los Angeles Riot Squad (LARS) probably felt the exact feeling Biby Mendoza described at the Galaxy’s most recent home game against Orlando City.
    Members of the group organized an event called Baddies and Brunch, an all-female-led Galaxy experience, curated and run by the female members of the group before the match. An event that organizers explained had been planned for years and had stalled, finally came to fruition for the female members of the group. And they made sure people wouldn’t forget it. The ladies organized a spread of mimosas and pancakes, females DJs, passed out flowers to women present and created a special t-shirt for the event, but where it really mattered was the visibility.

    LARS had an all-female Capo box for the match against Orlando City. Photos provided by Luis Catalan for LA Riot Squad.
    LARS had an all-female Capo box for the match against Orlando City. Photo via by Luis Catalan for LA Riot Squad.

    They were rulers supreme of the capo box for the match, imploring the crowd to sing with them or lose their voices trying. At one point, being joined by L.A. rapper MURS, many did lose their voices. Despite the event stalling various times, LARS member Janet Sanchez knew how important the event could be and moved it forward.
    “We wanted to highlight women, all different kinds of women. But also we want to also show that women also love soccer, we love to be part of the supporter's groups, and we want to be involved too,” Sanchez explained about her motivations for making sure the event took place.

    Sanchez credits Los Angeles street muralist ***Ms. Yellow, with reviving the idea, and Ms. Yellow claims it was all Sanchez. Together they came up with a target date for the event as close to International Women’s Day as they could, and both said their favorite part of the day was watching ladies light up when they got flowers.
    Tasked with designing the t-shirt for the event, Ms. Yellow was surprised they sold out so quickly.

    “Yeah. So, the shirt I designed for Lars…. It's an ode to all the women's supporters, hence the woman in the front, right? So, she has the large mask, the flag, a soccer ball, and she's just like, overall ready for desmadre,” Ms. Yellow laughed. Longtime LARS member and former Vice-President of the group Victor Montes wore his Ms. Yellow original print proudly. A member for over 15 years, he proposed having more events like it, until eventually women being involved in the capo box was no longer newsworthy. “They're just as important part of our group as anybody else, so it was nice to see them highlighted and then to have the girls in the capo box all day, and for them to finally have their day, that was pretty awesome,” Montes declared.

    Meet the LAFC Supporters Groups: Pride Above All

    Across the city, a vibrant, LGBTQ+ supporters group is still waiting for their day, however. Pride Republic, originally started in LAFC’s first year, has tried unsuccessfully since then to gain admittance into the 3252 Independent Supporter’s Union. Getting no official response from the union, Pride Republic wrote an open letter to them, and it was quickly picked up by LGBTQ+ and ally publications.

    Instagram Post Embed Code:

    In a series of events, the group started when its president Paul Ruiz’s job had him attend a work event in collaboration with LAFC. He was immediately struck by the passion and festive atmosphere of supporters that didn’t even have a roster at the time. A short time later, after becoming an official fan and on an away trip with LAFC fans to Seattle, the rainbow flags he saw at Lumen Field held him spellbound. Ruiz began to ask himself if LAFC had a similar supporters group and since they didn’t, he reached out directly to the front office. When LAFC connected him with Dexter Quinn, Pride Republic began to take shape.

    The pair have made a dedicated effort since then to make the stands at Banc of California Stadium inclusive for all and a safe space for diverse walks of life.

    “For us, it's really about inclusivity and acceptance and showing that this is a safe place for you to come and that LGBTQ people love sports just like anybody else. We want to be here, and we want to be part of the conversation, and we want to be inviting, and we want to make it a safe space for everybody,” Ruiz enthused. “Like, just because we make it a safe space for us, we also make it a safe space for families and for anybody, right? It's just about being an open, welcoming environment for everybody. And that's what I would love; to make it a safe place.”

    Pride Republic President Paul Ruiz credits the Rainbow Flag with inspiring the group’s birth.
    Pride Republic President Paul Ruiz credits the Rainbow Flag with inspiring the group’s birth. Photo by Rob Jalón/ @elescuderodela for L.A. TACO.
    photo: Yansi Keim/Unsplash
    LAFC's Pride Group pose for a group photo. Photo by Rob Jalón/ @elescuderodela for L.A. TACO.
    LAFC's Pride Group pose for a group photo. Photo by Rob Jalón/ @elescuderodela for L.A. TACO.

    He goes on to describe the experience of being in the crowd as a 50-year-old at Lumen Field and seeing the rainbow flags in the stands. He says that if he felt that sense of belonging as an adult, it probably does immeasurable good to young people questioning their sexuality, place in the world, and place in sports. It was that moment and the meeting with Quinn that Ruiz credits for the group's creation, while Quinn wanted to protect loved ones. “To me, it was having people in my life that I'm invested in their life and their safety and welfare, Quinn confessed. “I don't like bullies. I wanted to build a safe space for this community to come and enjoy soccer in their city of 4 million people. We asked ourselves how to reach this community that has been picked on for too long.”

    Along with the current fight for inclusion, Ruiz has led the group through some tough moments.

    In LAFC’s first season, the infamous “chant” was heard full force, causing instant alarm among its LGBTQ+ fans. Ruiz gives the club and front office plaudits for supporting them since day one, seeking constant input from them and this occasion was no different. Quinn, an army veteran, claims that the club immediately reached out in the aftermath of the “chant” to find out how they could support the community. He remembers feeling angry that he could not protect those he promised to and asked the club for a definitive statement. After Pride Republic’s input, the front office acted.

    LAFC immediately put out a statement that the “chant,” homophobia, and hate speech would not be tolerated at the Banc. Since then, they’ve made the commitment to remind the black and gold to be good to their neighbors to ensure an inclusive environment.

    Tweet Embed Code:

    A Club for all. 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️#LAFC, @LAFCPrideRepub, @LAFC3252, and the @LALGBTCenter are teaming up to ensure an inclusive environment for all fans.

    — LAFC (@LAFC) February 26, 2022

    It gives Ruiz optimism that people can learn, and for the battle ahead.

    “When Banc of California Stadium opened, we were told that 'Everybody belongs in L.A.,’” he said in this year’s club statement on inclusivity. “We live and breathe this in Pride Republic. 'Everybody' means the teenager attending the game with her family, the boy sitting with his dad and uncles in the South End, the new couple coming to their first game. When they hear 'the chant,' they don't feel like they belong. Let's stand 'Shoulder to Shoulder' all the time. Don't do 'the chant.' It causes real harm. Instead, use your voice to support this great Club and city, and sing loud and proud with the 3252!”

    He describes being of two minds about the process of being admitted to the supporter's union and whether the members of the group will vote to actually see the process out. And although he feels that they deserve membership, he fears it may not be achievable. If the choice were up to Ruiz, though, he would keep lobbying for inclusion until the group became part of the union. His reason for doing so is named Mo Fascio.

    The beloved Capo for the District 9 Ultras and Vice-President of the 3252 died in June 2021 of Covid complications and with him, those that knew him, say one of the biggest hearts in the LAFC community. Both Ruiz and Quinn describe Fascio as never having an angry word with anyone, always looking out for fellow supporters, but most importantly, trying to make the Banc as safe and as inclusive for everyone there. Ruiz credits Fascio and the District 9 Ultras (D9) for being their biggest ally and advocate. To this day, Pride Republic and D9 stand together in the stands and tailgate together beforehand.

    For Mo alone, Ruiz vows that he’ll continue the fight. “I know that it was Mo’s wish to see us become an officially recognized supporter group in the 3252, and I want him to get his wish,” said Ruiz.

    El Chiva Mayor

    If Ruiz felt the loss of an advocate, Julio Ramos felt the loss of a friend and fellow member of his supporter group, District 9 Ultras. Started more than 15 years ago to support Chivas USA, Ramos has been a member of D9 the entire time. When Chivas USA folded, he simply could not bring himself to support the Galaxy just for the sake of supporting soccer in the city.

    He bid his time and when LAFC was announced, he knew he had found his place. D9 got behind LAFC and was born on October 30, 2014. As one of the first two official fans that the club recognizes, he, along with Fascio, holds a special place in the 3252. And it is for this reason the club seeks his input on everything from how the stands should look while the Banc was being built to giving him the opportunity to grill new coach Steve Cherundolo before the season. “What we have built is amazing. When we started, everything was a dream. Everything was just an idea, you know, the way it was presented, how they wanted the stadium, and how we wanted the supporter's section, what we wanted to contribute to the city of Los Angeles, not just sporting wise, but also within the community,” Ramos said. “All of that was just, it was this dream. And right now to see it come true, you know, for me, it gives me a lot of pride to see.”

    Jose Medina, a first-time attendee of an LAFC match, knew instantly he was hooked. He described the atmosphere as being unmatched in MLS, and how he already knew he would get season tickets for his son and himself for D9. Just in front of him, the rappers B-Real and Xzibit had joined the LAFC drumline and were pounding away. “I really haven't seen anything like this. My family is here with me, we’re all enjoying it, everyone is smiling, and the 3252 hasn’t stopped. I’ll be back here, no question,” Medina explained.

    A tifo in honor of fallen capo, Mo Fascio was displayed before LAFC’s game against Vancouver. Photo by Rob Jalón/ @elescuderodela.
    A tifo in honor of fallen capo, Mo Fascio was displayed before LAFC’s game against Vancouver. Photo by Rob Jalón/ @elescuderodela for L.A. TACO.

    With banners proclaiming, “Forza Mo,” as a backdrop, D9 has indeed, not stopped. In just five years, Ramos and D9 went from having two supporters to having several thousand, and chapters in different cities as well. His entire family is a part of D9 and one gets the impression, that the group is an extension of his family. Described as “a family-oriented support group that represents the love for LAFC, the beautiful game of football through respect, freedom of choice, and conviction,” it is no surprise Ramos and D9 are allies of Pride Republic. He seeks safety and inclusion for families and all walks of life at the Banc as well.

    Which is why, despite being one of the most passionate and visible members of the 3252, Ramos is wary about this weekend’s coming El Tráfico.

    A Conflict Renewed

    Ramos isn’t wrong to be worried.

    Almost every Tráfico, if not each, have had instances of violence, starting with the first two. The second saw six fans arrested and 14 ejected from Banc of California Stadium. And as the clubs try to exert their influence on the soccer culture and win the city this week, social media has become the battleground.

    Kevin Baxter, a journalist for the L.A. Times who covers both clubs and has covered every Tráfico, called the “back-and-forth” on socials childish.“It’s clear each club lives rent-free inside the heads of the other. Speaking now of the supporters. I don’t understand why they don’t simply celebrate the great things about their teams. Instead, they need to tear down the other,” Baxter said in a Twitter message.

    Long-time LARS member Montes agrees.

    “I see some of these young heads go to war on social media and I wonder why it has to be like that,” Montes said. Janet Sanchez, an organizer of Baddies and Brunch, shared that the tension that builds up on social media, can’t help but spill over to the game. She leaves her children at home for the match and has missed all but one at the Banc over safety concerns. And with the latest fights at El Tráfico, who can blame her?

    Things got so bad, the clubs even ended up on TMZ.

    Ramos, a target of frequent online bullying because of his place in the 3252, laughs off the jokes at his expense, calling it banter. He condemns any type of violence at the games, though, calling it unnecessary and detrimental to what Los Angeles hopes to do; which is to grow the sport of soccer and establish a vibrant culture. No one knows quite what needs to be done to stop the violence, but almost everyone interviewed save Baxter placed the blame for the violence at the feet of indifferent police on overtime hours, rotating staff at the games unfamiliar with the rivalry, and the lack of competent security. These should hopefully be addressed with the joint statement the club’s made on security for the match.

    But the focus on safety and violence sullies what should be a festive occasion.

    “What should be important for Southern California soccer is the fact we have two good teams,” Baxter explained. “One, a traditional franchise with a great history. The other with one of the best four-year starts in MLS history. There’s no reason why the rivalry can’t be built on respect. When we look at the Chivas-Galaxy rivalry, that was compelling for a while. But when Chivas failed to remain competitive, it hurt the rivalry and soccer in the community. We can’t afford a repeat of that.”

    In this way, the clubs need each other. To push each other, to draw out the best and most beautiful aspects of soccer; to grow the indomitable and unmatchable spirit and culture of soccer in L.A.

    What is clear, is that no one involved enjoys the violence in the rivalry. “I don’t know why we have to be so bad to each other just because we have a different piece of laundry on,” Defenders of the Banc podcast host J.R. Lebert asked.

    On Saturday, those pieces of laundry we have on will force us to defend Los Angeles again.
    Hopefully, it is an El Tráfico without incident.

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