Hard work does pay off. In life, every person hopes that the hard work that they put into a job, a product, or an idea will affect them in a positive manner in the long-term. This is no different for soccer clubs. The idea that eventually the work in terms of building a team, a fan-base, and a culture will lead the team to victories and financial success. It may take years to get to this point, but the hope is that the pay off will be worth it.
On Sunday night, the San Jose Earthquakes will open Avaya Stadium when they take on the Chicago Fire (7pm EST FS1). The opening of Avaya Stadium marks a significant achievement for both the club and MLS. It is a positive sign for the club and the league that soccer can gain a foothold in a city, that it can build a culture, and that it can adapt and succeed.
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There is perhaps no city in MLS that better represents the league’s highs and lows more than San Jose. One of the league’s original soccer cities, San Jose has seen some of the best soccer played in the league (2 MLS Cups, 2 Supporters Shields) and had some of the league’s best players. But it is also a city that lost its team, went on hiatus, and had to rebuild from the ground up. It is a bit telling that San Jose’s two years on hiatus were the dark ages of MLS (2006-2007).
The key to the Earthquakes success, and that of MLS’ as well, is adaption and evolution. Like the rest of the league in 1996, San Jose opted to ignore North American soccer history. When the team came to the league they were called the Clash (at the behest of Nike) not the Earthquakes, the name of the club from the North American Soccer League. The name Earthquakes like all of North American soccer prior to 1990, was seen as a failure and therefore not profitable.
But in 1999, the team relented. They changed their name back to the Earthquakes and fully embraced their history and their roots. The team’s Hall of Fame features players from both the MLS era (Ronald Cerritos, John Doyle) and the NASL era (Momcilo Gavric, Johnny Moore). Even the club’s shield is a homage to their complicated past. It shows the blue that the Earthquakes have been known for during their MLS run, but also features a streak of red to represent their 40 year history.
It is very interesting to see the timeline of this revolution in San Jose and MLS’ change of heart with recognizing the past of North American soccer. Perhaps it was the fear of going out of existence, but right at the same time of the reboot in San Jose MLS began to warm up to the history of U.S. and Canadian soccer. Shortly after the return of the Earthquakes, the league would bring in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. A stronger emphasis would also be placed on the Open Cup, which was largely an afterthought for the first half of the league’s existence and whose 100 year history is now only being given credence.
There is also of course the pursuit of the soccer-specific stadium and building an environment where each club can feel like their park is their home. For years, the Earthquakes and many teams in MLS played in parks that were either too big for a league in its infancy (Spartak Stadium) or parks that meant for other sports (Buck Shaw Stadium). The Earthquakes and the league have made the most out of their arrangements (for example: Earthquakes management spent millions in 2005 to re-develop Buck Shaw to fit their needs) but renting from others is never a long-term viable solution.
Avaya Stadium gives the Earthquakes and MLS a chance to look back upon all of the work that it took to get to this point and be proud. The roads that both San Jose and the league took to get here are linked and Avaya is a marker for the progress that both have made to promote the game of soccer here in North America.