Earthquakes back in MLS where they belong
Now that the Earthquakes are returning to MLS with a new local owner -- the team has a second chance to put all the pieces together for a successful team in every aspect.
The common sentiment following the announcement that Major League Soccer was bringing back the San Jose Earthquakes, was that the league had just picked up a ball that had been dropped back in 2006.
"I think it's important in that section of the country," said Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad, a former Earthquakes player. "The Bay Area is a hotbead for soccer talent."
No one could argue that the Earthquakes weren't a worthy contributor to Major League soccer. Besides winning two MLS titles 2001 and 2003, the Earthquakes had just won the regular season back in 2005 when they were relocated. MLS swallowed the team whole, moving the players and staff to become the Houston Dynamo.
"I'm excited for the city," said Houston's Brian Ching, another former Earthquake. "The fans there definitely deserve it."
Though the attendance numbers had never been impressive for the Earthquakes, they hadn't been horrible, either. A difficult tenant situation with Spartan Stadium was the final straw for Phil Anschutz, then-owner of the Earthquakes. The city government and the local media had seemed especially indifferent to the situation, however.
"Hopefully, they've learned what they've lost when the Earthquakes left," said Conrad. "Basically, Anschutz called their bluff. They left. Now Houston is one of the best franchises. They could have had that, if they had done the right thing."
Though the core of the Houston Dynamo were Earthquake players once, the name, colors and records of the squad remained with the defunct organization. Lew Wolff, who also owns baseball's Oakland Athletics, moved to buy the league development option for San Jose last year.
Conrad believed that the two-year absence could have made many hearts in MLS grow fonder of the 'Quakes.
"I do think the appreciation will be there," said Conrad, recalling his tenure with the squad. "We played second fiddle to the Sharks and San Francisco Giants and everything else in the Bay area. The San Jose Mercury news devotes so much to teams that aren't even from the same area. That's disappointing. On game day, we would get this little blurb [in the paper]."
By contrast to those days, the news of the return was splashed across the front page.
"Lew Wolff has been stepping in and talking about their new stadium now," said Conrad. "They're going to come back with the right professional attitude."
It helped that MLS has advanced during the two years as well, adding new teams, TV contracts, and generating considerable revenue with jersey sales.
"There's a great group of supporters there, but hopefully, they can draw more fans with the publicity of David Beckham and Juan Pablo and Claudio Reyna coming back," said Ching.
Though some San Jose fans might dream about gathering as many players as possible from the 2005 team that performed so well before spirited away, Dynamo players are unlikely to go back, at least, en masse.
"We moved as a team and that's our strength," said Ching. "We love being around each other. Not too many guys are going to want to go back. They're going to want to stay on our team and be a part of our team. I think that's why we're successful. I haven't talked to the other guys, but I've grown to love Houston. They've accepted us. I'd feel torn to leave them."
Wolff admitted during the press conference that back in 2005, when a committed local owner might have saved the Earthquakes from leaving the area, he was preoccupied with making his purchase of the Athletics a good one. Now, however, Wolf is excited to be leading his team into the 2008 season, trumping other expansion efforts.
Though Ching agreed that it would be good to also see an Earthquake squad trot onto the field again, he confessed to slightly conflicted feelings.
"It's going to be bittersweet," said Ching of lining up against his old colors.
With an owner who isn't distracted by other MLS commitments, who is dedicated to building a stadium for the team, and a community recently awakened to both the value of soccer, the Earthquakes could finally have the infrastructure to succeed off the field. The challenge of competing on the field, though, looms as the most difficult task now.
Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She also writes for topdrawersoccer.com, lasoccernews.com, soccer365.com and contributes to a blog, Sideline Views. She can be contacted at email@example.com.