Longtime Earthquakes fan Lee Munson is using the word “excited” a lot these days.
Sunday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the Earthquakes’ soccer-specific stadium, the first such venue in Northern California history, has added significance to those who have immersed themselves in soccer over the past four decades.
Talk about soccer nirvana. They’ve attended international and professional matches galore, enjoyed the sport at all levels, and rooted passionately for the Earthquakes. But they’ve never been seated in a stadium built specifically for them, a true soccer “home” that celebrates the club’s rich history and bright future.
How sweet it is.
“It all just comes together,” Munson said, pondering all the possibilities. “It’s exciting. It’s very exciting.”
Earthquakes fan Eric Cullen of Fremont echoesthose sentiments. “We're feeling tremendously excited for this particular season,” said Cullen, who works in Morgan Hill. “If ever there was an MLS team that deserved its own stadium - it's the Quakes. It’s symbolic for Quakes fans that have followed team since 2005 to see that the team gotenough of a foothold to be acknowledged with the support of their own stadium - huge milestone. We think a lot of the Quakes.”
Fans envision being able to host an MLS All-Star Game and U.S. national men's or women's team matches, etc.
Ex-Earthquakes player Chris Dangerfield, the club’s radio analyst (1590 KLIV), said he will be at the groundbreaking ceremony “with a shovel in my hand and a smile on my face. It’s a proud moment.”
Dangerfield remembers having to scramble for places to practice while sharing Spartan Stadium.
“Having a new training facility and stadium all to their own is a huge advancement for the organization, and signals a bit of an arrival for them,” Dangerfield said.
Earthquakes Hall of Fame inductee Troy Dayak, a club academy instructor and a legend among fans for his passionate playing style, sounds like he can’t wait for the new stadium to open for the 2014 season.
“I’m really happy that I’m going to see this in my lifetime,” Dayak said. “Being able to take my kids to it and all the players that I coach and train and just the clubs that I work with, it means a lot to me, and I’m sure it means a ton to the soccer fans in the Bay Area. It’s really going to be the epicenter for soccer in Northern California. I can’t wait to check it out.”
Cullen and his family started attending Quakes games in 2001, prompted by Cullen’s son Henry, then an 8-year-old youth soccer player. “As we got more involved, we said, ‘Let's go see the Quakes. We went to our first game in May 2001 and have been to every home game since.” Eric’s group also includes his wife, Sonja, her sister Kim Smith; their uncle Jerry Smith, and Henry. “Henry was really the catalyst,” Eric Cullen said. “We have wholeheartedly loved being Quakes fans.”
Munson, a Brentwood resident who coaches girls soccer at California High School in San Ramon, has been an Earthquakes fan since the 1970s. He fondly remembers tailgating and playing soccer games on the grass at Spartan Stadium before and after matches. He marveled at the footwork of ex-Earthquakes legend George Best (1980-82) and the Cosmos’ Franz “Der Kaiser” Beckenbauer in the old North American Soccer League. So you could imagine how thrilled the Munson is today. His mind races when thinking of all the ramifications of the new stadium.
“Look what happened in Seattle [with the big crowds],” Munson said. “That’s exciting, and that’s how much soccer has grown. My dad [Fred] and my wife Michelle, we’ve been lucky enough to travel to Cup finals when the Quakes played, and it’s really cool to go to other soccer-specific stadiums and see what they have. We’ve always been jealous. Now we’re finally getting one of our own.”
The new stadium will also be a boon for the Earthquakes Youth Academy, which was launched in the summer of 2010 and is headed by Fred Wilson. Academy players will be training on a field next to the stadium
Dayak compares the academy set-up to a European system. “It’s really a long-term vision coming to fruition here. ... It’s just like it is overseas,” Dayak said. “When we went over to visit Tottenham Hotspur, they had the first-team training on the top field and the academy teams training on the fields surrounding them. Just being able to walk around the first-teamers on a day-to-day basis, being able to watch your favorite superstar or soccer hero practice, it’s invaluable for these young guys.”
Added Munson, “It’s exciting that the Quakes have an Academy - we didn’t have that when we were kids, it was all foreign players." Munson is pleased that the Earthquakes are now anchored to the South Bay. Thus homegrown players, such as Chris Wondolowski, David Bingham, and Andrew Wiedemen of Toronto FC, will always have a place in which to showcase their talents.
Season ticket holder Fred Wang of Pleasant Hill called the new stadium “a pretty big deal for the team, the league and Bay Area in general.” He praises the Quakes for keeping ticket prices low and has enjoyed attending games at Buck Shaw Stadium.
“I’m looking forward to hosting some potential international games (at the new site) and some good friendlies. That will all be exciting,” Wang said. “I had the pleasure to be able to visit some soccer-specific stadiums in the league: Rio Tinto in Salt Lake, it’s really cool. I’ve been to Home Depot Center and CenturyLink Field for lot ofSounders-Earthquakes games. Those are really cool, so to have that season-long environment with the Quakes would be really cool.”