THE SAN JOSE Earthquakes win this year’s award for Best Demolition Job. In what should be viewed as a significant step forward, the team staged a wrecking party last week, as it began to officially demolish the old FMC structures across Coleman Avenue from the airport, where the team plans to build a privately financed stadium.
Quite a few San Jose politicos made appearances, as did a few hundred season ticket holders and hard-core supporters. For the fans, this was perhaps the most important event since the team returned as a new franchise four years ago. Despite a few cosmetic improvements to Buck Shaw Stadium at Santa Clara University—the team’s temporary facility—the ownership group hadn’t really provided any concrete, on-the-ground proof that a new stadium is more than just an idea in the drawing rooms. Now it has.
After all the speeches, an M2 Bradley tank rolled out of the abandoned warehouse to symbolize the history of the property. FMC manufactured equipment for the U.S. Defense Department here, and before that, the property was used for the agricultural industry. A gigantic PC750LC Excavator courtesy of Devcon Construction then proceeded to demolish the north side of an abandoned factory building that Quakes fans had spray-painted with logos and antiÐL.A. graffiti just for the occasion. In a postcard-picture photo op, all the politicians and dignitaries, along with Quakes players, coaches and office staff, had their photos taken in front of the tank, the giant excavator and piles of rubble. It was one hell of a show.
As the Earthquakes prepare for their season opener on March 19, several dynamics are at play, locally and across Major League Soccer (MLS), giving cause for hope. For example, San Jose’s youth academy is moving forward, with former Quakes defender Troy Dayak as its new technical adviser. The league’s requisite establishment of youth academies represents noteworthy progress in its evolution. A model unique to soccer, youth-development programs are important components in professional clubs throughout the soccer-playing universe, where no equivalent exists for the American college draft system.
Generally speaking, kids are selected for the professional club’s academy and rise through the ranks as property of the club; then the club has priority, if it desires, to sign the player to the professional team. If not, the player can pursue other options. Two of the world’s best players—Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi—each emerged from their prospective club’s youth academy and made their first pro starts as teenagers. Last year’s Major League Soccer Rookie of the Year, DC United’s Andy Najar, likewise came straight out of that club’s youth academy. Basically, the reason the culture of youth soccer in America is disconnected from the culture of professional soccer is due to the absence of youth academies. When MLS first launched in 1996, the concept wasn’t even on anyone’s radar. Now, the scenario is changing for the better.
Another reason for hope is that MLS has finally realized that supporters groups are the future of the league. Modeled after European and South American equivalents, an MLS supporters group works in unison at games—chanting and singing multiple songs, waving flags, displaying homemade banners, mass-taunting the opponents and more—all to ratchet up the atmosphere at matches. They are precisely what make the sport unique and special, and a rapidly increasing number of them are also traveling to road games and booking their own sections in opposing teams’ stadiums ahead of time.
Each MLS club that has recently built its own stadium now understands that sections for supporters groups must be taken into account from the very beginning of the design process. This has happened, at least to some degree, in Toronto, Seattle, Philadelphia, Vancouver and Portland.
The complete demolition of the old FMC buildings will take approximately 12 weeks. The only element missing from the party was a proper soundtrack. They should have played “Demolition Man” by the Police or “Smash It Up” by the Damned.