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Time for our own field of dreams

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A rendering of the proposed new stadium for the Earthquakes, as unveiled by Lew Wolff in September, 2009.

Last weekend’s 2-0 loss to Galaxy underlined that the San Jose Earthquakes 2011 season hasn’t quite turned out as we all had hoped.  Coming into this season everybody was expecting the Quakes team to make the playoffs: the fans came to the Great Deluge opener in an optimistic frame of mind after the 2010 playoffs, and the club had already printed a playoff ticket in our season ticket packs, the price of which would be refunded if we didn’t.  Now, the Quakes are mired in a twelve game winless streak, and the team is running out of games in which to achieve that goal.  The fans are disappointed and overwrought: some of us (not me you understand) are even starting to hear voices:  “Ease our pain.”

The fans’ support for the players remains as strong as ever.  Just couple of weeks ago, in the face of some questionable refereeing decisions, The Casbah supporters group stepped up with a raffle to pay the fines of Bobby Burling and Brad Ring.  However, recent surveys of the usual Internet soccer sites indicates that support for the club’s financial game plan, and some of the coaching decisions are being increasingly questioned; some fans are becoming downright restless.  There is, however, one topic on which the fans, and their aching backs, are completely unified: the need for a new stadium - “If you build it, we will come.”

If the Earthquakes are to remain a financially viable MLS club, they’ll have to retain their fans, but many are losing patience as we close out the fourth season of Quakes 2.0 with no new stadium on the horizon.  In fact, all we have is a horizon — a big, gray, expanse of flat concrete horizon with sweeping views of Lowe’s and the In-N-Out Burger — and it’s been utterly dormant for the past six months.  From where I sit, I can see the club already has three of the four things we’ll need for a successful new stadium: a bunch of fans, a team and a design, the missing component being funding.

The Fans: Yes, I list the fans ahead of the team; it’s their participation that helped make San Jose Soccer City USA after all.  Without the fan base, MLS would not have returned the team to San Jose in 2008 and the Quakes team already has two established supporters groups: the Casbah and the 1906 Ultras.  Over 40,000 vocal fans turned out for the New York Red Bulls game, and since most were wearing Earthquakes or Clash gear I have to assume they weren’t just there for the lavish post-game fireworks.  The fan base has now been proven at the relatively luxurious Stanford stadium, and perhaps the three consecutive sell outs at Buck Shaw since then is no coincidence.

The Team: The Quakes team has history — the first MLS game ever played was a 1-0 victory for the San Jose Clash over DC United in 1996.  The current team roster has local heroes in Wondolowski and Beitashour, wily veterans in Corrales and Convey, and a gaggle of promising youngsters.  I could get behind an inexperienced team if I thought that in a couple of years they would be settled and cohesive.  Wouldn’t it be fascinating to watch a talented team being assembled while we survey a new stadium rising from the ground?  It would be worth enduring these dry spells with the hope of successful seasons when the new stadium is inaugurated.

The Design: The current stadium design has three sides, but I wish it were four — Stanford won me over to an enclosed stadium with its swirling atmospheric fan noise.  For the real dreamers among us, check out the Stadium Porn website (it’s not what you might think!) for a plethora of new football stadiums; it will implant huge ‘stadium-envy’ in your psyche.  At least the Quakes have already installed the Nutrilite Training Facility; the practice field has lush green turf, but in keeping with the immediate environment it has no facilities and is surrounded by a eight foot razor wire fence reminiscent of ‘Escape to Victory. (I hear Burling has started a tunnel and should reach In-N-Out by Tuesday).

The Funding: I wish I were extravagantly wealthy — and believe me if I were, the Nerd-O-Dome would already be built.  I’ve already posted my own wish list of stadium facilities should my California Mega Millions lottery numbers win...there’s that voice again: "If my numbers come up — I will build it," and I have an inexplicable urge to pull up some corn.   The current stadium cost estimates are $40-60M, conservative compared to the $200M for the fabulous lines of Livestrong Park, but seems to be in keeping with the small market frame of mind of the Earthquakes organization described by Robert Jonas earlier this week.  Pending my huge, but improbable, lottery win I often find myself pondering where I might find a spare couple of hundred million dollars.  If only we lived in a part of the country with some of the richest companies in the world who might sponsor such a stadium.

But wait a minute…is this not Silicon Valley?  Doesn’t Apple have a bigger stash of cash ($75B) than the US Treasury?  The whole stadium would barely make a dent in their stash, and what can anyone possibly do with $75B that they couldn’t do with $74.8B?  I digress.  The stadium would be known as The Apple Core, The Big Apple, or if that’s a little too NY for our taste, The Bigger and Better Apple – heck, even The MacBuck Shaw (a nod to our heritage).  Alternatively we could consider Google:  the team would play in the Google-plex, and the fans would be androids (too nerdy?).  Then there’s Facebook or Twitter: the stadium would be catered by the Iz-It Hawaiian food truck, supplying hungry fans with their famous ‘Spammers’ spam musubi.  Finally: Yahooligans anyone?  Er, maybe not.

Clearly crazed by too much diet soda and cheesy Cheetos, I’m just throwing out some off-the-wall ideas to get the Quakes stadium built.  I’m writing as a fan whose (perhaps naive) priorities for building a new stadium are related to soccer and its diehard fans rather than bringing a hugely profitable real estate development deal to fruition.  If the Quakes pockets aren’t deep enough, then the fans would like them to open an additional wallet, and quickly.  In the short term, the continued and increasing interest in MLS will surely provide a return on immediate stadium investment, with profits generated by willing fans.  In the longer term, the success of the stadium will generate the momentum for the proposed real estate development, and the early investment will be paid back many times over.

As we reach the end of this arduous season the fans could definitely use some light at the end of the players’ tunnel, as it were — it’s time to end this restless nightmare and build our own field of dreams.  “...they'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the lines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces.  Oh... people will come, Lew. People will most definitely come.”