SAN JOSE (AP) — The San Jose Earthquakes finally have a place to call home.
After spending nearly two decades playing in college stadiums in the Bay Area, the Earthquakes are set to open the 18,000-seat, soccer-specific Avaya Stadium on Saturday for an exhibition game against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
With the technologically advanced stadium, team offices, training facilities and practice field all on one site near San Jose’s airport, the organization feels it is finally in position to capitalize on the growing interest in soccer in the Bay Area.
“This is the proper way to run a team,” team President Dave Kaval said. “It took a while but we’re finally here and we’re thrilled about it.”
San Jose joined the MLS as the Clash when the league started in 1996 and played the league’s first game ever against Los Angeles at Spartan Stadium on San Jose State’s campus.
The team stayed there until 2005, changing its name to the Earthquakes during that tenure, before moving to Houston because of an inability to get a soccer-specific stadium in the Bay Area.
“The league is in a much stronger place than it was a few years ago,” Kaval said. “There are more soccer-specific stadiums. There are better players in the league, our television deals are significantly better. All that stuff together has given us a lot of wind in our sails.”
Oakland Athletics owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher then were awarded an expansion team in San Jose in 2007 with the rights to the history of the Earthquakes. The team began play the following year at Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University as the organization worked on building a permanent home.
The Earthquakes opened a training facility at the site near the airport in 2010 and broke ground on the privately funded, $100 million stadium in October 2012.
“It shows how far soccer has come,” said star forward and Bay Area native Chris Wondolowski. “The community in itself is getting rewarded. There was a lot of hard work put in to make this happen. It shows how many people were dedicated to this project.”
There were some holdups in the process, including protests from neighborhood groups worried about noise and other inconveniences. Construction also was delayed at the site that used to be a factory for Bradley tanks because of concrete bunkers discovered underground, pushing the opening to this year instead of 2014.
“It was challenging,” Kaval said. “When you build in a community without public financing, it’s a challenge. But you also get to control the whole process.”
That allowed for some of the unique features for the stadium, including the largest outdoor bar in North America behind one goal, a two-sided video board as large as the one at AT&T Park in San Francisco, a two-acre fan zone with food trucks and entertainment for kids and suites and club seats at field level.
The seats are also three different shades of blue with a few red ones mixed in to honor the colors of past Bay Area soccer teams. The pattern is a code and whoever figures it out first will win two tickets to the 2018 World Cup.
The steep seating is expected to make for a louder environment and keep fans closer to the action and there is also an all-standing supporter section behind one goal.
“If you can’t get excited and motivated to play in front of friends, family and Earthquakes fans in this ground, you have a problem,” coach Dominic Kinnear said. “Not only is it good for that and hopefully an intimidation factor for our fans, but it can be a recruiting tool to bring players from overseas and young players in the area who are dying to play for Earthquakes.”