Lifelong soccer fan Steven Bernasconi, 25, is embarking on a 20,000-mile journey around North America called The Soccer Tour to experience the continent’s diverse soccer culture. He’s taking in a game in each of the MLS markets, plus games at the USL, NASL, NPSL and NWSL levels.
“The Soccer Tour is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to combine my love of soccer with a journey to explore the U.S. and Canada,” said Bernasconi via the official website. “Domestic soccer has established itself across all levels over the last few years and I’m eager to witness its development in cities coast to coast. This trip is about gaining perspective, meeting the interesting people in the American soccer ethos and sharing their stories.”
Bernasconi’s tour, which wraps up this month, led him to Avaya Stadium to watch the Quakes defeat the Portland Timbers on Saturday, Sept. 30. Sjearthquakes.com sat down with the man who has seen it all about his experience at the Quakes’ third-year home.
SJEQ: Stadiums in Seattle, Portland and Atlanta get a lot of exposure for their atmosphere, but what did you expect from San Jose and Avaya?
SB: It’s understandable why those stadiums get a lot of love: their atmospheres are unlike anything else in Major League Soccer.
I try not to let any preconceived notions I might have influence my first visit to a stadium. I knew that Avaya was one of the newer stadiums in the league and that it’s been well received by supporters, but beyond that I didn’t have any expectations.
SJEQ: What were your first impressions upon arriving at the stadium?
SB: Full disclosure: I didn’t like it at first. I’ve never been a fan of horseshoe stadiums, and I thought having the suites so close to the field -- and right off the concourse -- was weird. But once I got on the field with the photographers, I began to fall in love with it. I loved the proximity of the seats to the field, the way it carried the noise from the Ultras, and the hordes of people hanging out at the LOBINA. It’s a really nice stadium.
SJEQ: As someone who has seen soccer at every level around the country, how did Avaya Stadium compare?
SB: I don’t like to draw comparisons. There are too many variables that go into an experience and my opinion is based on only one game at each stadium I visit. Realistically, I could have been treated to the best match at one place, and witnessed the worst-possible scenario at another, so it’s really not fair for me to compare and contrast too much.
That said, the atmosphere on Saturday was right up there with the best of them in MLS. Maybe not on the same level as Portland and Seattle, but certainly in that next tier.
SJEQ: What was your favorite part of the venue? Anything stand out as being unique?
SB: Having suites so close to the pitch was...unusual. Definitely unique. Obviously the LOBINA is something I haven’t come across anyplace else and is definitely one of the cooler features of the stadium, as are the terraces behind goals.
The sightlines at Avaya are fantastic. I spent the second half roaming around the stadium and everywhere I stopped to watch provided a quality view of the field. I never felt far from the action.
SJEQ: What did you think of the stadium atmosphere and fan energy?
SB: The atmosphere was fantastic. Look, the Ultras have had their fair share of controversy, but they provide one hell of an atmosphere. Not to mention Krazy George and the way he is able to get other sections of the stadium going as well. Everyone seemed to get involved. And I have to give credit to the traveling Timbers Army; they did their club proud in helping create a noisy atmosphere.
SJEQ: Advice for fans coming for the first time?
- First impressions can often be wrong. If, like me, you aren’t instantly a fan of the stadium, give it time.
- Explore the stadium. Do a lap. Watch warm-ups from various spots, check out the bar, etc.
- Find which area is right for you. Different parts of the stadium can provide drastically different experiences.
- In many stadiums, atmospheres are influenced by results. If your first time at a stadium wasn’t exactly what you expected, don’t let it be your last. Give the team another chance.
Bernasconi’s tour will take him to his second Reno 1868 FC match, with the Quakes’ USL affiliate visiting Orange County Blues FC on Saturday. Follow him and his journey on Twitter at @TheSoccerTour