SAN JOSE, Calif. – When Shea Salinas joined the San Jose Earthquakes as a rookie in 2008, the club was playing in a 45-year-old college stadium. To conduct practices, players had to drive 15 minutes from their headquarters to a junior-college campus where some security guards didn’t even know soccer fields existed.
Needless to say, Salinas ranks pretty high on the list of people who will enjoy the grand opening of Avaya Stadium on Sunday night against the Chicago Fire (7 pm ET; Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes, Fox Sports Go).
“We didn’t really have a locker room,” Salinas said of the Quakes in 2008, their first year back in MLS as an expansion club. “We didn’t have a training facility. We were playing at a college stadium. Now we have our own training facility, our own locker rooms, and we have a beautiful, new state-of-the-art stadium. It couldn’t be further from 2008 right now.”
When the Quakes throw open the doors to host the Chicago Fire, it will represent the culmination of a years-long process to build the $100 million Avaya Stadium complex at the corners of Coleman Avenue and Newhall Drive.
And it represents a new era for San Jose, which used some of the new revenue streams from the stadium to carry three Designated Players – new forward Innocent Emeghara, playmaking midfielder Matias Perez Garcia and talismanic captain Chris Wondolowski – for the first time in club history.
“I think it’s going to be good for soccer in America,” Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear said this week. “It’s wonderful for Bay Area soccer. A lot of these guys have been looking forward to this day for a long, long time. . . . It’s definitely going to be special.”
The happiness over playing in an 18,000-seat, soccer-specific stadium isn’t limited to just current members of the Quakes family. Former San Jose defender Todd Dunivant, whose current LA Galaxy squad served as the opposition during the stadium’s soft opening last month, praised the venue.
Fire coach Frank Yallop, who spent eight-and-a-half years in two stints at the helm of the Quakes, said he’s excited to participate in the opening after being on hand for the club’s groundbreaking event – which set a Guinness World Record for utilizing 6,256 people – in 2011.
"I was there for the groundbreaking,” Yallop said on a conference call this week. “That was a fantastic, big, big moment for the Earthquakes and the city. It’s just great to see that stadium built. . . . I’m just very happy for the ownership group and the people who work there in San Jose. I’m pleased that they got the stadium built and the fans can really enjoy a lovely venue and watch it the way they should watch a soccer game.”
Perhaps most importantly, the stadium gives credibility to the Quakes in the free-agent market.
General manager John Doyle acknowledged that having the new stadium in place was a key reason San Jose were able to sign Emeghara, who brings the most impressive resume of a new Quakes signing since 2008: 25 years old, experience in Italy and France’s top flights, nine caps for the Swiss national team. It would be hard to envision a player of that caliber gladly signing up to play at Buck Shaw Stadium.
“In 2008, I didn’t complain much,” Salinas said. “Everything was great because I was playing professional soccer. But as you’re in the league longer and longer and you see different teams’ setups, you wish for certain things. Here in San Jose, I think a lot of teams are wishing they had this type of setup.”