“As the stands rattled Sunday with choruses of “EARTH” from one side and “QUAKES” from the other, the tumult of the past was just that—the past.”
As the massive video screen displayed each player in the San Jose Earthquakes’ starting XI Sunday, Avaya Stadium’s announcer started an exercise of call and response: First came a player’s first name and a pause, before the home crowd bellowed his surname, one after another. It was a day for pride, for a club and its supporters to revel in the fulfillment of a promise made a long time ago: A brand-new, cutting edge home for their hometown Major League Soccer side. Indeed, failure to secure a stadium a decade ago exiled the team to Texas, and ultimately disbanded it for a brief period of time. But as the stands rattled Sunday with choruses of “EARTH” from one side and “QUAKES” from the other, the tumult of the past was just that—the past.
As a Quakes supporter I’ve seen the team play in a baseball stadium, an American football stadium, and two different college stadiums. I’ve sat on, and stood on, and fallen over the cold aluminum bleachers of Buck Shaw, and I’ve felt the twinge of jealousy on weekend afternoons seeing the tifos ascend to the roar of the crowd at Providence Park in Portland or Sporting Park in Kansas City. Once I set foot in Avaya I knew I’d never be jealous again. Everything was perfect, the colors, the space, the crowd. I knew I had a big silly grin on my face but so did everyone else. Of the best grounds in the league I would already put Avaya in the top three with Providence and Sporting Parks (and top two in the Bay Area along with AT&T), though the Quakes home has two things I would say put it at the top. First, the stands are better designed than Sporting, the steep angle bringing the crowd right on top of the pitch and trapping sound around the home end. Second, unlike their neighbors to the north in Portland, the Quakes play on grass.
And then there’s The Bar, all 3,657 square feet of it, being billed as the largest outdoor bar in North America. Drifting around it before the match it struck me that though there are no pubs near by to walk from to the match they’ve essentially created a pub in the ground. People were meeting and greeting, raising drinks to the Quakes, letting loose with songs, and watching the team warm up all in one spot as their kids darted around them. The place has a family vibe in the best sense of the word. It’s also got a hell of a lot of drinks and a field level view, once halftime ended it took some serious willpower to convince myself I should return to my seat, out of professionalism if nothing else.
Opening day had extra significance for the two managers involved: Dominic Kinnear and Frank Yallop. The two men have led the Quakes to all their major honors: MLS Cup in 2001 and 2003 and the Supporter’s Shield in 2005 and 2012. Kinnear, now back for a second stint in San Jose, had been in charge during the bitter move to Houston. Though Yallop was on the Chicago bench and had left the team in the midst of a devastating slump, he was still warmly cheered by the home crowd when his face appeared on the screen.
The game itself began with a blistering first half, San Jose leaping to a 2-0 lead before half an hour had been played, Fatai Alashe christening the stadium with the finishing touch after some head tennis following a corner. Ty Harden nabbed the second, basically tackling the ball into the back of the net after Sean Johnson spilled his initial save. Harry Shipp gave the Fire a lifeline after some poor marking allowed Joevin Jones to find Shipp’s darting run behind, and the Chicago native fired past David Bingham. The match petered out a bit from there but the Quakes had what they wanted, 3 points to give the fans on opening day.
With a first home win on the books, the Earthquakes have set the stage to turn Avaya into a fearsome away trip in the Western Conference. Days before the game the Earthquakes front office had to start the waitlist for 2016 season tickets, having already sold out 2015’s allotment. Reaction to opening day was overwhelmingly positive, and one local reporter even took the chance to chastise the league for letting the team leave back in 2005. Early signs from the new look Quakes roster are promising and hopefully their exploits on the pitch will give the club an opportunity to continue building support in the greater Bay Area.
Whether we want to admit it or not, American fans can have an inferiority complex with our European cousins when it comes to history, tradition, and nostalgia. Days like March 22 2015 are one of the reasons I love being an American soccer fan because I got to be a part of history. I witnessed an MLS charter club, in fact one of the two teams that played the first ever MLS match, take the pitch in a stadium built just for them, built for the sport we love, filled with thousands who were thrilled to be home, a roaring sea of black and blue ready to see more history made.
Follow Jackson Culley on Twitter @_jculley_