For seven seasons at the San Jose Earthquakes long-term temporary digs at Buck Shaw Stadium, the San Jose Ultras stood loud and proud behind the north end goal, supporting the Black and Blue mere feet from the end line. Their numbers were impressive, their chants were pervasive, and their effect on opposing teams was oppressive. Buck Shaw was short on almost every amenity a sports stadium requires, but the Ultras kept the atmosphere intimidating and exciting, through the good times and the bad.
But when the team moved across the tracks to brand new Avaya Stadium in 2015, the Quakes largest and most passionate supporters group was no longer an imposing presence behind the goal. Rather, the Ultras took residence in the upper bowl of the stadium, concentrated in the endzone sections 117 and 118, far from the players whom they shared such intimate surroundings with back at the Buck. No more leaps into the arms of the Ultras after every goal. No more gathering at the rails, win or lose, at game’s end.
Now, three years later, the Ultras are moving back to where they belong, back to the edges of the stands, en masse again behind the goal line. For the Earthquakes season opener this weekend against Minnesota United, and moving forward in 2018 and beyond, the San Jose Ultras will be standing in the Supporters Terrace.
“We are continuing to strengthen the relationship between the Front Office and the Ultras by being receptive to the group’s needs,” Earthquakes Chief Operating Officer Jared Shawlee said in a club statement. “We truly believe that moving the Ultras to field level will allow them to feel a stronger connection to the players they are supporting and further enhance the overall stadium atmosphere for all of our fans.”
The higher vantage point the Ultras previously occupied allowed their chants to reverberate off the Avaya Stadium roof, but their unique brand of intensity will certainly still fill the facility from field level.
“For us, the number one priority is to be able to provide our team with the best support possible, while putting a lot of pressure on the opposition,” Dan Margarit, leader and founder of the San Jose Ultras, said in the same club statement. “At the end of the last season, we approached the new leadership of our Front Office and suggested that they revisit the idea of building a better supporter section behind the goal. They were very receptive to our ideas and suggestions.”
The Ultras tried out their new environs during the Earthquakes preseason friendly against Reno 1868 FC in early February. They took to a temporary grandstand that was a prototype for improvements Shawlee indicated would be installed starting in mid-April. The plan is to eventually build a permanent set of stands that will put the Ultras directly behind the action. During their dry run against Reno, they were handsomely rewarded, as the Quakes relentless attacking pressure resulted in a four goal outburst, all four right there in front of them.
Only three members of the current Earthquakes roster played for the Black and Blue back at Buck Shaw Stadium — Chris Wondolowski, Shea Salinas, Quincy Amarikwa, and Tommy Thompson. For Wondolowski, who has been honored by his most ardent supporters with their “Heart of an Ultra” award, having the supporters back at field level will be a welcome change in 2018.
“I think it’s great,” Wondolowski said. “It’s going to be great to see them eye to eye, face to face. It’s fun to have them behind the goal, and it will be more intimidating to other teams and the away goalkeeper. It’s always fun to attack that goal when you hear that roar behind them.”
The Quakes captain enters the season only 11 goals behind the league’s all-time scorer Landon Donovan, and he looks forward to celebrating as many of those goals as he can with the Ultras. And should he break the record in front of the supporters, pandemonium by the pitch is sure to ensue, something longtime teammate Salinas can fully appreciate.
“If they’re happy, then it makes us happy,” Salinas added. They provide a great atmosphere in our stadium, so if that’s going to make it even better, I am all for it. If they’re enjoying it, then that’s great, and celebrating goals with them is always fun.”
One of the newer Earthquakes, defender Nick Lima, remembers the Buck Shaw days from his time in the stands, cheering on the team he would one day call his own. The Quakes Academy product knows first hand what the Ultras bring to the party on game days, and he is all in on their move to the Supporters Terrace.
“You love the atmosphere here, especially when away teams come,” Lima said. “It feels like a hostile place to play, especially when they are loud and in their ears. I like those guys.
“They are extremely loyal — you love to see that and the support they give — so them being closer, I think it’s better for us, as well as them, because,” Lima continued, a smile creeping across his face, “they will be closer to the action, and they don’t have to climb that flight of stairs anymore with a few drinks in their systems!”