SAN JOSE – Welcome to the party, Earthquakes fans.
After decades of waiting for a stadium of their own – and you can choose your starting point, from the team’s NASL incarnation in 1974, the inaugural MLS season in 1996, or their departure from San Jose in 2005 and return in 2008 – there was plenty of reason for some housewarming festivities on a beautiful spring afternoon in the South Bay.
Whether it was the shirtless Ultras bouncing up-and-down for 90-plus minutes at one end or the full house packing the terraces in front of the stadium’s now-famous outdoor bar at the other, there was not a glum face to be found in the house. Even the visiting Chicago Fire fans had some reason to celebrate after seeing Harry Shipp score their team’s first goal of 2015, and a fine one to boot.
From the beginning, even prior to the match, the excitement and joy emanating from the fan base was palpable. Just six months prior, tailgates had taken place in a small parking lot behind the Earthquakes’ offices across the tracks in Santa Clara. Now it was a full-fledged fiesta in the shadow of a gleaming new home of their own.
Inside the stadium itself, the keen attention paid to the Quakes’ history in the area served as a pleasant juxtaposition to the “best in class” (according to MLS Commissioner Don Garber, on hand for the event) facilities on display.
There was longtime superfan Krazy George dressed in the red strip from the NASL days (right) splitting the stadium in half leading an inaugural ‘EARTH … QUAKES’ chant that shook the building, and World Cup winner Brandi Chastain – reputedly a season ticket holder since 1977 – finishing the team’s Great Soccer Ball Relay around the Bay Area. There were clips from the team’s history – from George Best to Chris Wondolowski – all shown on the state-of-the-art video board, cheered by 18,000 fans, from the field-level suites all the way up to top of the steep terraces whose design was integral in bringing the facility to fever pitch.
One other longtime Quakes fan in attendance – on the field, in fact – was Wondolowski, the quintessential local boy come good, and he offered an assessment of the whole day that could’ve easily come from any other fan in the building.
“Being from the Bay Area, having to move [the Earthquakes to Houston before the 2006 season], and having the team fold at that moment, I was devastated for the community, just because it’s played such an important role in my life,” the 32-year-old, who recalled being at the first MLS game at San Jose State's Spartan Stadium back in 1996, told reporters after the game. “I appreciate [Earthquakes investor-operator] Lew Wolff and the owners bringing the team back, John Doyle and all these guys did a lot of hard work to get this team back.
“I was always rooting for them in 2008, even though I was at Houston, and I’m so excited that we got this team going and getting the stadium built – it’s taken a little bit, but it’s an amazing experience.”
Though for most Earthquakes fans, the natural choice to score the first goal in Avaya history would be Wondo himself, there was something fitting about seeing rookie Fatai Alashe christen both the new stadium and his burgeoning career with the opening goal – his first as a professional – just five minutes into the game.
A new face for a new home, and in the end, another memorable chapter in San Jose Earthquakes soccer that we’ll see on that video board for years to come.