On Pins and Needles | John Doyle reflects on the inaugural MLS match

“People in football say you never get carried away – never get too high after a win or too low after a defeat,” says John Doyle.

“That’s a little bit pretend – you do."

The current Earthquakes general manager and former captain is reflecting in particular on the night the San Jose Clash kicked off a new era with a 1-0 victory over D.C. United in front of 31,683 at a delighted Spartan Stadium.

“That was incredible,” Doyle adds.

“Just coming back into the locker room and seeing everyone so happy. Incredible.”

For Bay Area native Doyle perhaps as much as anyone else, the opener took on added significance.

“We were nervous coming onto the field,” he recalls.

“We didn’t know if people were going to turn up. Pins and needles. I knew we had soccer people here. We would play US games in the Bay Area and the stadiums would be packed but we still didn’t know if they were going to show.”

He did not have long to wait for his answer.

"I remember seeing the stands full when we came out and thinking ‘there’s going to be soccer here’,” Doyle, who won 53 caps for the US men’s team, adds.

The impact was not lost on Mrs. Doyle, who had followed her husband around the soccer globe before they finally came home.

“I remember after the game, Kaarin turning to me and saying ‘are we done with tours of duty now?’"

Doyle, who turned 50 in March, lists Eric Wynalda’s game-winning goal as his favorite memory, along with the celebrations that followed.

“Hearing the crowd and feeling the adulation, that was crazy,” he adds.

“I remember we stayed at the old Sainte Claire hotel before the game and we went there afterwards. That was a big deal because none of us really had the money to stay in hotels previously. When we got back, there were kids running around in the atrium and everyone was really happy.”

Stays in hotels are now taken for granted and Doyle often reflects on how, since that fateful day at Spartan Stadium, the game in the US has progressed.
"I think the facilities are the biggest difference,” he says.

“You look at what the players get now, how they are treated. Even as far as the executives, the offices you sit in. You watch games in Argentina and Brazil and Europe and it’s nice but you got to games here and our stadiums are as nice as anyone’s. 

"There was nothing wrong with Spartan but there were things which weren’t ideal. It was a college stadium.”

At home in Pleasanton, away from his office at the gleaming Avaya Stadium, Doyle also has a constant reminder of the change.

"My son is 21,” he adds. “All he’s ever known is that there’s always been a pro league.”