There was a palpable buzz around the Rose Bowl as thousands of fans shuffled from shuttles toward the ticket gates. For those who had been tailgating, the sudden invasion of newcomers seemed of no major consequence.
Kids in their striped Barcelona jerseys kicked balls around the grassed areas while their parents looked on, anxiously waiting for the gates to open so they could witness defending European champions Barcelona take on MLS giant Los Angeles Galaxy.
After years of waiting, the Catalan club had finally made their way back to Pasadena, and the fans had come out in force. Barcelona defeated the Galaxy 2-1 in 2009 with a record attendance of 93,137.
In that game, the furor was around Barcelona’s first visit to Southern California and David Beckham in LA, with the former Real Madrid midfielder drawing most of the headlines and inspiring a slew of new jersey orders. This year, fans sported the freshly printed jerseys of new acquisition Steven Gerrard as they made their way into the Rose Bowl.
But the number of Galaxy supporters was dwarfed by the legion of red and blue stripes. When the gates finally opened, fans rushed inside, as if two hours early was not nearly enough.
For many, it clearly wasn’t. "I’m here in the Rose Bowl, trying to see Barcelona. It feels great," Fausto Junior, a self-proclaimed fan of both teams said. "I mean come on. When are you going to see Barcelona play?"
Junior’s sentiment was shared by many, as the conversation of many passers-by focused on how little they got to see their favorite team and how special this game could be. With Gerrard on the field and the news of the Galaxy’s most recent signing, Giovanni Dos Santos, LA fans were hopeful.
If the Galaxy fans were optimistic, Barca fans were downright cocky after their team’s recent treble winning season. Even without two of the best players in the world — Neymar and Lionel Messi were given time off after the Copa America — Barcelona were widely expected to win this International Champions Cup game with players like Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique in the mix.
Many were disappointed at the announcement, especially those who had bought expensive tickets expecting to see the Catalan’s club dynamic trio up top, but most were just excited to be there.
"I was (disappointed) coming in," fan Hugo Fernandez said. "Then, as soon as I walked into the park, the kids are kicking the balls when they arrive here, and it all comes in. Would I have liked to see Messi and Neymar? Yeah. But it doesn’t diminish the value. I would have preferred it obviously but I’m not going home empty handed."
Would I have liked to see Messi and Neymar? Yeah. But it doesn’t diminish the value. I would have preferred it obviously but I’m not going home empty handed.”
Barcelona fan, Hugo Fernandez, after the Spanish side's 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy on July 21, 2015.
Suarez — who didn’t play for Uruguay due to his previous suspension at the 2014 World Cup for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini — was still set to start with Pedro Rodriguez and Rafinha supporting him on the wings. Certainly different than Barcelona’s typical three, Pedro and Rafinha received a chance to impress Barca manager Luis Enrique and to endear themselves to the Barcelona fans.
The fans weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the positive atmosphere. The concession workers at the Rose Bowl also experienced a surge in business and with a near-record crowd expected once again, it looked like a good night to be a vendor. Adrian Gash, a dancer and one of the people hired to direct business towards the vendors, was less focused on profits and more attuned to how the fans were feeling.
"It’s nice to come out here and have friendly faces and stuff to come out and buy stuff from you and laugh," he said. "If we’re the first faces that they see, it has to be a good atmosphere because if it’s a bad atmosphere they’ll go in to the game upset. If they come in with a positive attitude, they’ll be cheering for their favorite team, they’ll be clapping their hands and coming to buy stuff."
OK, so not everything can be truly altruistic. But everyone seemed to benefit, from the fans downing food and snacks to the little kids buying souvenir shirts and balls from the "official Barcelona" gear booths.
Barcelona’s colors surged through the stadium with occasional splotches of white and blue. At the whistle, the stadium erupted in a roar and a buzz was audible even in down stretches of the game. The buzz reached its crescendo when Suarez scored the game’s opening goal. And when the visitors doubled their lead, it seemed that the good vibes that Gash had worked so hard to provide were indeed being felt – by one fan base anyway.
But the Galaxy fans would get their consolation, as a stoppage-time header by Tommy Meyer brought the deficit to 2-1, shortly after an attendance of 93,226 was announced — setting a new record and topping the attendance in 2009. The latter sent the crowd into hysterics while the former gave the LA fans something to go home with. No longer, for the night at least, was Major League Soccer desperately trying to play with the big fish.
As Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said after the game: "Mission accomplished."
For LA fans, their team scored against arguably the best team in the world. And for the fans of Barcelona, they got to see their heroes play right before them on one amazing night at the Rose Bowl. Shuttles began herding people back to their cars and homes, fans clamored at the gate for a glimpse of their favorite players.
It hardly mattered to dedicated Barca fans, they already had their prize. Anything else that night would be a luxury in an already magical evening.