SAN JOSE, Calif. – With the MLS Cup 2012 final destined to be hosted by the team with the better regular-season record, the league-leading San Jose Earthquakes are diligently researching on their options for Dec. 1, looking for a larger venue to meet the match’s oversized ticket demands.
If such a move comes to pass, San Jose might be giving up the MLS’ biggest home-field advantage.
Joke all you want about the weatherbeaten nature of Buck Shaw Stadium, the Quakes’ almost 50-year-old home on the campus of Santa Clara University. But San Jose have been laughing, too – laughing while pasting opponents for more than a year now.
The Quakes have not lost at Buck Shaw since falling to Colorado 2-1 on Aug. 13, 2011, and are 11-0-4 in MLS play there since then, including a 4-0 clubbing of Chivas USA on Sunday. They’ve outscored visitors by an astonishing 36-15 count this season for a league-best plus-21 home goal differential.
Part of the reason for this success is obvious: San Jose are very good, regardless of location. The Quakes rank third this year in road goal differential, at plus-two, just one back of Sporting Kansas City and Seattle Sounders FC.
And as San Jose midfielder Sam Cronin points out, any team vying for the Supporters’ Shield is right to expect results at home.
“I mean, really, it should always be that way,” Cronin told MLSsoccer.com. “We feel we should win every game at home. I don’t think that’s cockiness. That’s the reality of it. If we play the way we know we can and have the right attitude, this is a place where we should do very well.”
That’s not simply the artifact of a small field, either. Many out-of-town teams and fans recall Buck Shaw’s shrunken 70-yard width when the Quakes returned to MLS play in 2008, but the current dimensions are 74 by 115 yards, which puts it among the likes of BMO Field in Toronto, CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Columbus Crew Stadium and Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
“Everyone says it’s this tiny pitch,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “Last time I looked, that’s probably an average size in [this] league. It’s not a tiny little slick field. That’s not the reason that we’re winning at Buck Shaw.”
That said, Buck Shaw holds a great deal of intimacy when it comes to the closeness of the stands – which have routinely been at or near the capacity of 10,525 all year.
“If you go to a New England Revolution game, where the stadium holds 50,000, even if you have 15,000 fans in there, it doesn’t create the atmosphere that Buck Shaw has,” Quakes forward Chris Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “At Buck Shaw, there’s a buzz. You hear the fans right there, on top of you. It’s an intimidating place to play. I’ve been on the opposition coming in here and it’s always tough. That’s why I’m glad to be on this side of it now and enjoying it.”
Earlier in the season, Buck Shaw was the stage for some of San Jose’s biggest “Goonies” moments. Lately, the Quakes have taken to pounding the opposition early and often, with a 4-1 victory against Colorado preceding the Chivas romp.
“The atmosphere the fans create, it’s very good,” Yallop said. “It’s lifting for our players, and once we get on top of a team, if we’re doing well, it seems to demoralize the opposition.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.