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Buck Shaw Stadium gets mixed reviews

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Depending on who you’re talking to (and when), the most important challenge facing our new Earthquakes 2.0 (other than finding a solid offensive midfielder) is how they’ll handle game days at their current home in Santa Clara.

Yes, it’s only a "temporary situation” (like everything in this life) but Buck Shaw Stadium will be home to MLS matches for at least two seasons, maybe three. Negotiations are on track for a new, fantastic soccer-specific stadium to be built just down the road, but it’ll be a while before the club even breaks ground on a new home, much less moves in. While we wait (and wait, and wait) for that golden day, Quakes fans will be soaking up the rustic charm of Buck Shaw.

Game 1 in this (temporary) new home went about as well as anyone in the Quakes front office could have hoped for, with a standing-room only crowd providing great atmosphere, but the fans’ reaction was mixed as to whether the experience was what they had hoped (and paid) for.

The biggest problem with games at Buck Shaw is Santa Clara University’s ban on tailgating. As all soccer fans know, tailgating IS the social experience of the game, the only chance to talk soccer and get in a drink with your fellow fans before the focus moves to the action on the field. (Games in Oakland are tailgate friendly, and the team has promised their new stadium will also welcome tailgaters.) The Quakes front office addressed the tailgating issue by opening the “Club Quake Tailgate Zone,” a grassy area behind the “clock end” goal complete with booths selling food and drink two hours before kickoff, but that failed to satisfy some fans yearning for those great pre-game Club Quake pot luck parties of days gone by.

The “zone” looked good at a glance. The food choices were basic ballpark quality, and if you shopped around you could find several choices. Separate stands sold bratwurst, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, Louisiana hot links, Polish sausage, or a British banger, each accompanied by a bag of Lay’s potato chips for $7. Tri Tip sandwiches and Pulled Pork sandwiches, also with chips, went for $8.

Besides the refreshments, sponsors (Comcast, Verizon, KLOK Radio, 24 Hour Fitness, the Red Cross, Wyndham Vacations, the Sports Gallery, and the Earthquakes) had booths set up. The Comcast tent invited kids to come play Guitar Hero (with a few of them competing as part of the half-time show) while the KLOK guys first had youth soccer teams participate in a ball juggling contest, then had the kids simply spin themselves silly. Other youngsters kicked around soccer balls in the gentle Santa Clara sunshine as their parents lounged on the freshly laid lawns.

But when I talked to some folks, all was not well. The issue: beer prices. One angry fan told me, “They said we’d have affordable beer prices! $8?! I won’t be buying a season ticket again, and I won’t be coming early again.”

I checked out several tents and found different areas selling various brands. Gordon Biersch, Corona, Tecate, and Heineken were all going for $8, while MLS league sponsor Budweiser and Bud Light sold for $7. Also, drinkers were penned into each beer vendor’s zone, so the Corona lovers, for example, couldn’t hang out with their friends who preferred another brand.

Hmmm. Since no outside food or drink is allowed in the stadium, some fans are already proposing a rethink of pre-game strategy. One fan told me folks were tailgating down by the nearby Cal Train stop, but I could find no one to confirm that rumor. Someone else suggested this provided a great opportunity for Brittania Arms (or someplace similar) to become the pre-game party home for Quakes fans, if they’d provide a shuttle bus from the bar to the stadium. (I like that idea myself.) In the meantime, I bought one $8 beer, and would have bought one or two more if the price was lower.

Once the game kicked off, the only problem (besides the lack of scoring) was getting a good view of the action, at least from the temporary stands on the West side. These stands aren’t raked very steeply, so it was challenging to see over other people’s heads and around the steady stream of fans searching for seats. Shots would disappear behind a vendor’s cloud of cotton candy, and it was impossible to see anything happening along the near sideline. (Cue memories of Spartan Stadium.) Luckily for me, writing for CLS earns me a pass allowing me access to other parts of the stadium. At halftime, I abandoned my $35 seat to watch the last 45 minutes standing by the TV press box, enjoying a clear view of the game.

But a game at Buck Shaw isn’t all bad (or even, mostly bad). The seats are close to the field, and the pitch itself is simply the best the Quakes have ever enjoyed. The huge TV screen rocked, with great replays of the action and a welcome lack of graphics telling you when to cheer. The standing room only crowd of 10,515 pumped a lot of energy into a grinding game, with the Casbah in good voice behind the North goal, and the “1906” fans at the other end. Chants and songs filled the air all night, and fans throughout the stadium picked up the cheers pretty well, one side yelling “Earth” with the other side responding “Quakes” as the boys in black struggled to find a goal.

So those expansion team blues may continue for a while, for all concerned. But, it’s only temporary, right?

Now, about that offensive midfielder…