By: Eric He
March 22, 2015
SAN JOSE — For a price of $100 million, Avaya Stadium was money well spent for the San Jose Earthquakes.
One game is a small sample size, but if the regular season home opener against the Chicago Fire on Sunday — a 2-1 victory in front a raucous sellout crowd of 18,000 — was any indication, the Earthquakes, for the first time in franchise history, have themselves a grand “official” place to call home.
Gone are the days of playing in college campuses, relegated to being visitors and migrants in their own field. The Earthquakes franchise has long-awaited a sense of identity in the Bay Area. They’ve been around since 1974 as part of the North American Soccer League, clinched two MLS Cup titles (2001 and 2003), relocated to Houston in 2006 and then returned as an expansion team in 2008, and won the Supporter’s Shield in 2012.
Through it all, they’ve never garnered much attention in the region, largely because a) MLS is still very much developing as a formidable soccer league and b) there are a gluttony a sports teams in the Bay Area. In fact, it can be argued that the development of the Earthquakes’ new home was overshadowed by the recent opening of Levi’s Stadium, the 49ers’ new stadium, some 5.7 miles north in Santa Clara.
Time will tell if Avaya Stadium is the spark that launches the Earthquakes into the mainstream. They obviously still have to do the work on the field and keep the momentum going from the eccentric home opener, but they have taken a big first step.
I attended Sunday afternoon’s game and watched from a perch in the outdoor auxiliary press area.
I wasn’t on assignment with a particular story or deadline with a recap, but I wanted to take in the sights and sounds of the historic stadium opener (and at the same time, distract myself from staring at my busted March Madness bracket).
The traffic entering the stadium wasn’t Candlestick Park-like by any means, but it wasn’t great either. I arrived roughly an hour before the 4:00 PM PST kickoff and was clogged on Coleman Ave. for a good while. The stadium is located directly across from the San Jose International Airport, which can only hinder pre and post-game traffic, but is an ideal way to increase convenience and public transportation options for fans. As for parking, there are three options — Platinum, Gold, and Silver — which vary in distance from the stadium and the corresponding price. Media parking is in the Silver lot, furthest of the three, and it is a good 10-minute walk to the stadium gates.
Tailgaters were sparse, although I did spot a few fans with grills and others with lawn chairs.
Once I entered the stadium, I took a stroll around the state-of-the-art complex. Ok, actually, all I did was walk over to the outdoor bar — Northern California’s largest, the Earthquakes claim — and linger there for a while. The bar was jam-packed, as fans gawked to see the stadium’s biggest attraction besides, you know, the actual soccer field. It is located behind one of the nets and sits in front of a couple of rows of standing room view, presumably so intoxicated fans can stand and heckle the opposing team.
Not a bad idea, if you ask me.
View from the corner flag:
By the time I got back up to the press box, the introductions had begun. There was a live performance of the classic “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” and then Krazy George, inventor of “The Wave,” led the crowd in a cheer:
Already whipped into a frenzy, the crowd roared when Fatai Alashe netted the first ever goal at Avaya Stadium less than five minutes in on a header, and the party continued when Ty Harden made it 2-0 Earthquakes, scoring on a rebound off a set piece 16 minutes later.
The only drawback of the experience for me was the nearly unbearable wind chills up in the auxiliary press area, located in the upper corner of the stadium. It wasn’t even that windy or chilly of a day, but it was almost like we had been inexplicably sucked into a wind tunnel. Papers flew off the table and into the stands below and I was afraid my extremely thin MacBook Air would blow away and crack in half on the concrete. Being the idiot that I am, thinking that it would remain 70 degrees and sunny, I had left my jacket in my car (which, remember, was a 10-minute walk away). So with five minutes left in the first half, I took off on a brisk jog to retrieve my jacket, and somehow made it back by the start of the second half (by which point I had worked up a sweat from running to my car and back, and had no need for another layer).
It actually worked out, however, as four Navy Seals were about to parachute into the stadium right as I got to the plaza. Here are two of them in action:
Apparently only three out of four made it, and the one with the American flag attached to him wound up in the parking lot, possibly due to the wind gusts. Still, though, this was some sight to behold:
The game settled down for the most part in the second half, after a frenzy of three goals in the first half. The Earthquakes hung on for the 2-1 win and ACDC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” blared when the referee blew the final whistle.
Fittingly, indeed, not just because the team is named “The Earthquakes” but for one glorious Sunday afternoon, San Jose’s MLS franchise had the attention of the Bay Area, and perhaps took the first step to shaking up the sports landscape and making an imprint in the region for years to come.