As I watched the MLS playoff matches this weekend, I couldn’t help but think how dangerous we could have been if we ended up competing in the MLS Cup Playoffs. No one would have wanted to play us. Despite a huge surge in the second half of the season and a 5-0-2 record over our last seven league matches, we ended up losing a tiebreaker to make the playoffs. We actually tied for the seventh-best record in the League and lost out on goals scored (the second tiebreaker).
The momentum we carried through the second half of the season under the expert leadership of head coach Mark Watson has continued through this offseason. Everyone is motivated to make the necessary adjustments to get better and ensure that next year we are playing in November and into December. This will include a strong MLS SuperDraft, evaluating options in the transfer market – especially for attacking midfielders – and making sure the team is fit and ready to play on day one.
One of our biggest priorities this offseason is to get ready for our CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal in early March against Toluca of Liga MX. Our season will likely open with the home and away series. Toluca is a notoriously difficult place to play. Their stadium – La Bombonera – is the Fenway Park of Mexican football and was the home of the Mexican national team for years. The stadium is at roughly 8,750 feet and hosted numerous World Cup Qualifiers and matches in the 1970 and 1986 World Cup. The match is huge for the club and MLS. As many people fail to realize, we are one of eight teams in the CONCACAF segment of the FIFA Club World Cup. This is the same tournament that the UEFA Champions League is a part of. The CONCACAF winner will face the winners of the six other regions in Morocco in a two-week tournament in December of 2014. The reigning champion is Corinthians from Brazil who beat Chelsea FC in 2012.
Our first week of the offseason was a busy one. For starters, we announced Mark Waton's multi-year contract to be our head coach. Although we made a decision to keep our international coaching search private to avoid any on-field distractions, general manager John Doyle and I met discretely with a number of candidates in the United States and in Europe. We were looking for someone with experience in the MLS system, great organizational skills and work ethic, and an ability to motivate players, especially in the face of adversity. We felt very strongly that Mark Watson had the leadership and management talent to fit all those areas. His incredible performance in the second half of the season speaks for itself. He took over in a difficult situation and got results with depletedrosters and facing tough competition. I am excited to see our performance with a full offseason of preparation under Mark’s leadership.
We also announced last week that the Earthquakes will open Levi’s Stadium on Aug. 2, 2014 against Seattle Sounders FC. This will be the first event in the new $1.3B ultra-modern stadium. This will be a massive match for the club and continues our tradition of playing big games at big venues. It seems fitting that in our 40th anniversary year that the Quakes – the first pro sports team in the Silicon Valley – will christen the new modern day cathedral of sports venues in the Bay Area. The fact that Levi’s Stadium as well as our new home is being built in the South Bay is the culmination of original Quakes owner Milan Mandaric’s vision of a vibrant sports culture here in Silicon Valley as opposed to San Francisco. All Quakes season ticket holders will be guaranteed seats at the match as it is a regular season game. We are happy to deliver such a monumental event to our fans and the community.
Finally, we have a huge milestone tomorrow at the new stadium site. Schuff Steel Company will be placing the first vertical steel column on the site. Mark Watson and John Doyle will sign the steel column that will frame the team locker room and clubhouse. We are very excited about this accomplishment and memorable milestone. After years of hard work and planning, fans and the community can see the steel rising from the ground and our new home one step closer to completion.
To continue our theme of having fans and all stakeholders involved in the stadium development, we have arranged for a trip to Schuff Steel’s Stockton fabrication plant on November 20. Tour begins at 10 a.m. Fans in attendance will receive a tour of the plant and see the large stadium steel pieces being fabricated for delivery in mid-December to erect the super structure. If you are interested in the road trip, please email me at President@sjearthquakes.com. We have a limited number of slots open so we will hold a drawing of everyone who emails their interest by Wednesday of this week.