I find myself aimlessly wandering about the house as the MLS season winds down and there is only the MLS Cup game left to watch. The MLS playoff games have been well-played and closely fought - interesting to watch, but lacking the energy and excitement that comes when you’re rooting for your own team. Of course, if the Quakes were in the final in Los Angeles, we would have forked over unseemly quantities of cash in exchange for a ticket, piled up the car with Cheetos for the six hour drive to the Home Depot Center and vied for the inaugural Esoteric Car Bingo Tournament title: cow (check), Hollywood sign (check), David Beckham (Bingo!). The Ultras would have taken a bus, a keg and some ribald songs; they might even have given the bus back if the Quakes had won.
It wasn’t to be, and my array of Quakes shirts has been laundered, carefully folded and put away until next March. At the time on Saturday afternoon that I would usually be leaving for The Buck, the sun is already going down and I gaze out the window at our neighbor’s dog playing on the front lawn. Soccer withdrawal has me hallucinating: the dog appears to have great pace and strong shepherding instincts that are perfect for the total football system its team is playing. Somehow the ball never ends up in the back of the net, and the dog’s orange collar puts me in mind of the glorious defeats of the 1970’s Dutch national team. The lack of canine success up top resonates with me - a shortage of goals and it’s the Quakes 2011 season all over again. I sigh deeply and shake my head. Obviously it’s time to address this soccer addiction of mine and on Monday I am resolved to go cold turkey in time for Thanksgiving.
In the meantime, I present here a summing up of the evidence I witnessed in 2011, during which the Quakes front office has been guilty of some dubious roster moves, and my own innocent optimism was quashed pretty early on.
The Stadium: Even before a ball had been kicked, many fans gathered together at the old FMC factory on Coleman Avenue on a sunny day in March to witness the powerful excavator rip into the aluminum siding, and drag out and crush file cabinets with a single blow. It was a tangible celebration of the start of our journey toward the new Quakes stadium, and within weeks the demolition site quickly became a flat, bleak landscape, waiting on the final approval to begin construction. It’s exciting to envisage how a new stadium will solidify the franchise, and contribute to expansion of soccer in the bay area. Concerns about stadium noise, and distracting lights so close to the airport are being addressed, and the news for the go-ahead cannot come soon enough for diehard fans with four years of aluminum bleachers embossed on their backsides.
The Roster: How many grammatical constructions have you read this season comprising the two words ‘Zura’ and ‘debacle’? In addition to not acquiring new talent, we lost players who had been seeing a considerable amount of playing time. A second foot injury for Ike Opara couldn’t have come at a worse time, hot on the heels of the trade of Brandon McDonald to DC United. Ryan Johnson was traded to Toronto FC in return for three broken players, none of whom saw significant action. One high point for me was the impressive performance of two young players: Steven Beitashour stepped in with composure and growing confidence, and Rafa Baca finally got his visa resolved and contributed well as the season closed out; his greased lighting pace lit up our aspirations for next year.
The Games: Up in the bleachers, the fans welcomed the season at risk of serious water damage and double pneumonia in the game that came to be known as “The Great Deluge”. The team promptly transitioned from deluge to drought (win-wise) and the most ignominious game was surely the scoreless home tie against the LA Galaxy, in which the Quakes could not score against a 5’9” forward Mike Magee in a 6’4” goalie jersey. The biggest home game of the year was held at Stanford stadium, and 41,000 fans in an enclosed arena made for an exhilarating atmosphere, conclusively confirming the viability of soccer in the Bay Area. One unexpected discovery this year was the excitement and intensity of the reserve squad games held at the Nutrilite training facility – if you want to get up close to soccer action then be sure to check out a game there next year.
The Wins: The season’s biggest wins were off the field. I consider the most significant one occurred before the season started when the Quakes hit the jackpot as they won the January lottery to land the Generation Adidas goalkeeper and Cal alum David Bingham. Bingham recently made his debut with the U-23 US team, and he provided one of the most memorable moments for the home fans when he scored a goal in the mid-season friendly against West Bromwich Albion. His offense didn’t stop there - in his MLS debut he augmented his offensive stats with an assist for Chris Wondolowski against the Revs in October. Wondo added to his list of achievements and tied the nomadic Dwayne DeRosario for the most goals, finished with the highest ranking in the Castrol Index, made the MLS Best XI and is a finalist for MLS W.OR.K.S. Humanitarian of the Year. Kudos.
From my own standpoint, 2011 has been a virtual adventure as I explored social media, trading thoughts with Quakes fans on Twitter (Queeps?). My own writing season started with an eighty-seven word blog-ette about the demolition day, at a point when I was overly concerned with fonts, templates and color scheme. I persevered with weekly entries in response to events or articles that caught my attention, made a brief foray into match reports for MLS UK and ended with a few fully fledged columns at Centerline Soccer. So far, (and I realize I’m tempting fate here) the feedback has been so positive that I wonder who is intercepting the internet trolls.
As far as 2012 goes, we already know that the Quakes will move forward without Convey, Luzunaris, and Weber. The expansion draft is looming on November 23 so I speculate how many other players have kicked their last as a Quake and who will arrive on our doorstep in time for next season. So, absent any rebuttals of this season’s closing argument, my own jury deliberations will continue over a pint of Boddingtons. I’ll need to find eleven good men and true, and I suppose the Quakes front office will too.