Four months later LAFC won its first MLS Cupthe victors collected their spoils Saturday.
In a 13-minute celebration before its season-opening 3-2 win over the Portland Timbers at BMO Stadiumthe team unveiled its huge championship banner high above the western grandstand and welcomed the MLS Western Conference trophy onto the field as the players and coaches lined up to collect their championship rings.
Peter Guber, the team’s executive chairman and a founding owner, got his ring in his suite, although he had to clear some real estate on his fingers to try it on. In the last three seasons Guber has won championship rings with the Dodgers and Golden State Warriors in addition to LAFC.
It’s a triple crown of crowns, perhaps the first for a principal owner in US professional sports. Add in his two eSports championships, five previous NBA titles and the half-dozen or so others he won with the minor league baseball teams he has owned, and Guber has enough rings to open a jewelry shop.
And while picking a favorite among championships can be a little like picking a favorite child, Guber said the MLS one is special. The Dodgers and Warriors were both iconic franchises when he bought in, but he helped bring LAFC to life, starting the club when it was nothing more than an idea.
“Each one of the journeys are remarkably different,” he said. “The value of the ring, they’re a piece of plastic or metal that reminds you of your journey. They trigger emotional response and memory of what your experience was. That’s what makes this some interesting because they mean different things to different people.”
This last journey means something different to Guber, he repeatedly stressed, because it wasn’t one he made alone. In the pregame ceremony, he carried the Western Conference trophy onto the field with co-owners Bennett Rosenthal, Brandon Beck and Larry Berg who, like Guber, were all with the team long before it played its first game in 2018.
“Very many people did the building of it, not the least of which, of course [were] all the players and the coaches and all the partners,” Guber said, referring to the fellow owners he playfully calls the Three Musketeers. “When we started there was no stadium, there were no players. There was no brand there, there was no name, there were no fans.
“So we had to establish the traditions and value. You had a blank canvas and you had a chance to ignite the city with a different team.”
The rings were once a blank canvas too, one jewelers filled in with diamonds — and symbolism — marking the final steps of LAFC’s nine-year journey from concept to championship. The 67 white diamonds on the bezel represent the number of regular-season points the team earned en route to the Supporters’ Shield while the 128 black diamonds on the crown memorialize the minute Gareth Bale scored the goal that set up LAFC’s win on penalty kicks. The ring is also engraved with the scores for all three of the team’s playoff victories.
LAFC began its quest for another ring Saturday by holding off a desperate Portland rally to win its season opener for a sixth straight year.
After losing leading scorer Cristian Arango on a transfer to Mexican club Pachuca earlier this month, there were questions about where LAFC’s scoring would come from. Against Portland, it came from defender Giorgio Chiellini and captain Carlos Vela in the first half and Mahala Opoku seven minutes into the second.
For Chiellini, the goal was his first in MLS while Vela’s score, off a penalty kick, was his 70th in regular-season play, extending his franchise record. Vela got the assist on Opoku’s goal — his 47th, also a club record.
But Portland made it interesting late, with Evander scoring at the end of a breakaway in the 62nd minute and Cristhian Paredes getting another off a scramble in front of the net 18 minutes later.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.