CenterLine Report: Embracing the new era of SJ soccer
Not a month had passed since the final whistle sounded ending the 2005 MLS Cup Final, and what was feared by many in the community sadly came to pass. On December 15, 2005, two months from the day the San Jose Earthquakes finished off their most successful regular season in franchise history with a beat down of the Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS unceremoniously closed shop on the Quakes and announced they had been relocated to Houston, Texas.
Culminating a five-year run that saw the Earthquakes win to MLS Cups and a Supporters Shield, that core of that 2005 team went on to become the Houston Dynamo and win two successive championships in their new home town. Earthquakes fan favorites Brian Ching, Dwayne De Rosario, Pat Onstad, Wade Barrett — the list goes on and on — were stripped of their blue-and-black jerseys and instead given an odd shade of orange to wear while playing under the oppressive heat of the South Texas sun. The logo and colors were different, but the names were the same, and head coach Dominic Kinnear continued to lead a team that played attractive and winning soccer.
Except, it wasn’t being played in San Jose.
The story of how and why the Earthquakes were moved to Houston is well chronicled, so I won’t belabor the details here. Instead, I want to look at what transpired for me and many other Quakes supporters in the years when MLS didn’t exist in the South Bay. While many turned off the lights on their interest in the domestic game, some of us dealt with a crisis of identity when it came to following the league we had passionately supported since 1996.
I wasn’t ready to stop my support of the players, and so I tepidly decided to follow along as the former Earthquakes set up shop in Houston. Watching the occasional game on television, I slowly grew to embrace the boys in orange as they marched toward the postseason. When Brian Ching bicycle-kicked in the match winner in a late September contest against DC United ¬– a stunning strike that turned out the be the 2006 MLS Goal of the Year – I cheered as the Dynamo clinched their spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs. And in mid November, after Pat Onstad saved the final shot in a penalty kick shootout against the New England Revolution to earn the championship, I planted myself firmly on the Dynamo bandwagon.
Fast forward a couple years, and the rumblings out of San Jose that MLS was ready to award a new franchise to our community shook my soccer loyalties to the core. The Earthquakes were coming back, perhaps with all new players, but with the same colors and crest. My long-distance relationship with the Dynamo was in certain danger of being dissolved in favor of a not-so-forgotten love. The perfect marriage of my adoration for the sport of soccer and my years of support for the Quakes was avowed within seconds of the official MLS announcement ahead of the 2008 season.
However, when the preseason schedule was released and there were the Dynamo as the first home opponent for the Earthquakes, I realized I would be forced early on to confront my conflicting fandoms face-to-face.
On a chilly night at PAL stadium in San Jose, with a team of familiar faces wearing bright orange lined up against a team of unknowns in comforting blue-and-black, I enjoyed every minute of that scoreless draw between old and new. Repeating the experience later that week at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, I couldn’t help but respect the players that had provided so many memories for me over the past few year — regardless of the color of their uniforms — while simultaneously letting go of my sentimental feelings for their success. The teams played physical over the two legs of the Dynamos’ homecoming to the Bay Area, and my favorite former-Quake, Brian Ching, was red carded in the second match. They showed a good fight on the field, but lost the battle for my heart.
A new era was born that evening in the historic old stadium on the skirts of Haight-Ashbury. The tireless intensity of Jason Hernandez in defense, the skill on the ball of Ramiro Corrales anchoring the midfield, the emotion emanating from between the posts from Joe Cannon — collectively a new team was emerging from the collection of disparate parts. Heading home that evening after celebrating with a couple rounds at the Kezar Pub, I recognized the transformation, as indeed, we had embarked on the start of a new era for my team — the San Jose Earthquakes.