SAN JOSE, Calif. — Chuck Reed, the mayor of San Jose, knows just what a torturous route the San Jose Earthquakes took before arriving Sunday at the groundbreaking ceremony for their new $60 million home.
At how many different points, Reed was asked, did you think this wouldn’t get done?
“Oh,” Reed replied, “probably a dozen different times.”
Yet the Quakes plugged along for years, and the reward was a giddy celebration as the club hosted a world-record setting crowd of 6,256 to help them churn up the dirt at the corner of Coleman Avenue and Newhall Drive, where an 18,000-seat stadium is scheduled to rise in time for the 2014 MLS season.
“This is an enormously important step in getting the stadium built,” Reed said. “We in San Jose have been trying to have a home in San Jose for a soccer team for decades now. So we’re all excited about this.”
The ceremony came just hours after San Jose secured the second Supporters’ Shield trophy in franchise history — which represents the first hardware since the MLS’ original Quakes moved in 2005 to Houston and the current team was rebuilt as an expansion franchise three years later.
“What a fun day,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “I think it speaks to the character of this team. It’s always been deeply embedded in the community. And frankly, that’s why it hurt so much when this team moved. And I remember saying we’d be back, and I remember lots of people were skeptical as to whether we’d be able to do that. ...
“It’s a good moment for everybody.”
The moment was an unmitigated triumph for Quakes owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher, who patiently waded through a process that seemed so often hopelessly bogged down.
“This is so great,” Wolff said. “On top of it, having a winning team like we have coming together, it’s a perfect storm.”
Said Reed: “It’s the perseverance of the fans, the perseverance of Lew Wolff and the Fishers that made this possible. A lot of people would have just given up a long time ago.”
The Quakes pulled off the groundbreaking with a spectacle that has become — along with last-minute victories — their trademark this year. Thousands of commemorative shovels were impaled in dirt located where in the spot where the pitch is eventually slated to be laid. Fans and dignitaries staked out their spots and, after a wrecking ball painted in black-and-white to resemble a 1970s-era soccer ball thudded into the earth, dug for two minutes to set the official Guinness World Record for largest participatory groundbreaking and break the old mark of 4,532.
“I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday morning than doing a little yard work with 6,000 of my closest friends,” San Jose City Council member Sam Liccardo, who represents the district where the stadium is located, told the assembled crowd. “Next week, Lew and Keith [Wolff, the team’s managing partner] are going to have us come out here with 6,000 erector sets and we’re going to start building this thing.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.