Tag Archives: San JOse

Shooting Stars – San Jose Earthquakes Shine in Being the Best

22 Oct

Americans of all creeds gathered to grab a blue shovel to build a home –  the new domain of the San Jose Earthquakes. On Sunday, a world record crowd of 6,256 fans grabbed shovels and dug for two minutes on the land destined to spring forth a new era in Bay Area soccer. The man from the Guinness Book of World Records gave his assent and the deal was done. Fans cheered when the official word came through. This was a day for the true blue Quakes fans. Everyone there deposited a little bit of heart and graft into the future of their club.

There was business to attend to after the groundbreaking event – the final homegame of the season. Across the rail tracks at Buck Shaw stadium, the Quakes took on their rivals from the southland, Los Angeles Galaxy, a distant constellation missing a couple of bulbs. David Beckham and Landon Donovan were absent but no one really noticed or much cared. After all, the Quakes had lorded over the Galaxy this season with a brighter magnitude of talent.

Pre-game, there was a majestic tifo display unfurled by the 1906 Ultras, the Quakes fireball supporters that pack a sonic boom. A marvelous roll of canvas covering their section depicted the iconic Star Wars credits featuring the Quakes stars Steven Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski in the leading rolls. The ref blew the kickoff whistle and the job of running all over the Galaxy commenced again.

Yet the Empire from LA was intent on striking back. The Quakes had won the two previous duels this season. The Galaxy were determined not to lose again and they set about their business convincingly. San Jose struggled and were lucky not to find themselves behind at the half.

After the interval, both teams powered up, more territory opened up, and the battle engaged. LA went for the win, twice taking the lead, only to have the advantage pulled back by the dogged Quakes set on keeping their unbeaten record at home this season intact.

All eyes were on Wondo, chasing the single season goalscoring record of twenty-seven, set in 1996 by Roy Lassiter, who watched the game from the stands. The Danville native needed two to tie Lassiter and when he bagged the equalizer to make it 2-2, many thought destiny was at hand. Wondo hit the post twice, prompted the Galaxy keeper to produce saves but could not fling the final peg. He has one more chance next week against Portland. “Records are made to be broken,” said Lassiter, and Wondo knows it.

The Quakes had won the coveted Supporters’ Shield the night before thanks to Kansas City being unable to beat New York. Naturally, the team would have preferred to snatch the silver for themselves from Los Angeles, the current holders. But it didn’t stop the celebrations at the final whistle. San Jose were the rulers of the 2012 MLS season with the most points. The scenes in the locker room went pop with splashdowns of champagne. The MLS Cup now beckons, the final shot for a team that has shone brilliant all season long. May the force be with you.

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Away Day – On the Road to LA with San Jose Earthquakes, 1906 Ultras

29 May

When San Jose Earthquakes striker, Alan Gordon, scored the winner in the last minute of stoppage time against LA Galaxy in Los Angeles in mid-May, he peeled off his strip in celebration. By then, many of the 1906 Ultras, San Jose’s wild band of traveling supporters, were already stripped to the waist. In the space of seventeen minutes, the Quakes had overcome a two-goal deficit. Gordon’s flash sent the Ultras into overdrive. The final whistle sounded. The Quakes were top of the league. David Beckham and the LA Galaxy were in the black hole at the bottom.

You’re in Last Place, chanted the Ultras at their enemies in the Angel City Brigade, the Los Angeles supporters group, now in a state of collective silent shock behind the goal. The 1906 Ultras had claimed them. They serenaded the Angelinos. You Only Sing When You’re Winning, the taunt to the tune of La Guantanamera.

Traveling to your team’s road games is part of soccer fan culture. Call it the “away day.” The Ultras set out from San Jose at 6.45AM treating themselves to a breakfast of tequila, vodka, whisky and beer. Their leader, Dan, in an email to the group before the departure warned, “Control your drinking! If people are sloppy drunk when we get to LA, they will be left in the bus. I guarantee you that.” When Dan speaks, everyone listens. He is the top boy. Running a successful away day falls on his shoulders – the bus, the accommodation, the supplies and the tickets. “Being an Ultra is a way of life,” he says, “it is 24/7.”

The term Ultras says it all: hardcore supporters at the edge, well above the norm of regular fan. San Jose’s Ultras are a band of brothers and sisters. Their roll call includes lawyers, software engineers, union organizers, retail workers – folks from all walks of life. Mexicans, Salvadorans, Romanians mix with suburban American kids. Some help design the banners seen at the Quakes games. Others carry the flags. Lyricists compose their songs and chants. Their drummer pounds the beat in the bleachers. All together now, everyone singing, We are the crazy Ultras from the Bay, fighting in Seattle and LA.

The bus finally arrived in Los Angeles. The Galaxy’s stadium security was waiting.  Keep the “hate LA” chants down to a minimum was the request. But it was never going to happen. This was NorCal v SoCal. San Jose was here to rub them the wrong way for the full ninety-minutes. They never stopped singing. The drum pounded, Beat LA. It was too much for some in the Angel City Brigade. Security and cops did a good job keeping out the occasional mad Angelino throwing himself at the cordon. The odd gang fingers flashed and rolled. The middle finger was everywhere. Some of the language would have curled grandma’s toes.

Post-game, the police helicopter swooped overhead, the light beam spotting the 1906 Ultras below, now in full war whoop dancing on the conquered turf. Their ring was jubilant. They locked shoulders in a bouncing circle having claimed their scalp. It was a Hollywood moment, a fantastic ending. The spotlight followed the bouncing bus out of the stadium. Someone had a phone raised in his hands – Chris Wondolowski, the Quakes star striker who had missed the game after being called up to play for the US Men’s National Team, was on the line. The Ultras broke into song You are my Wondo, my Wondolowski. You make me happy, when skies are grey.

The influence of supporter groups is growing throughout American soccer. Seattle’s Emerald City Supporters and Portland’s Timber Army pull huge numbers. The New York Red Bulls boasts three such groups. Visit an MLS stadium and you see how pivotal the phenomenon is to bringing energy to the event. This transfers to the players on the field. It is a marked contrast to other US sports where spectators can be sedentary and have to be fed prompts – don’t forget to cheer. At soccer, you go along to participate. You go along to jump and sing. You don’t need anyone to remind you as to why you are there.

Major League Soccer is now embracing supporters groups as a vehicle for expanding its brand. “At first MLS rejected the idea of hardcore supporters groups, “ says Dan of the 1906 Ultras, “they catered to soccer moms and kids. Lately they are trying to appeal to fan groups. However they are trying to keep 100% control. I am working with Ultras to keep the groups independent from the front offices and the league.”

The day after the night before and the long trek back to NorCal. A deep sense of satisfaction kept the hangover storms beneath the blue horizon. And Ultras talk was already springing forward to the next Quakes home game on June 30. The visitors – LA Galaxy and the Angel City Brigade.

Alan Black is the soccer columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Read his memoir, Kick the Balls, the tale of the worst kids team in global soccer history.