The Seattle Sounders will get their first look at Avaya Stadium on Saturday, and they’re willing to take their chances that they’ll like it better than the San Jose Earthquakes’ previous homes.
The Sounders went 1-4-1 in their six visits to Buck Shaw Stadium, the tiny home the Quakes rented from Santa Clara University, and 0-1 at Levi’s Stadium, the glitzy home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.
“We haven’t won there, regardless of what stadium it is: Levi, Santa Clara,” Sounders captain Brad Evans said.
“So you hope to get a result. … They’re comfortable in that place. It’s going to be a very difficult task. Their crowd is going to be phenomenal as usual up there. It’s going to be tough.”
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As happy as the Sounders may be to give a new location a try, they can’t be as happy as the Earthquakes themselves. After enduring their entire Major League Soccer existence at other people’s stadiums — San Jose State’s, Santa Clara’s, Stanford’s, the 49ers’ — they finally have a place of their own.
“It has been completely transformative to have the new venue for the Earthquakes,” San Jose team president Dave Kaval said. “To finally have your own home ground that is really focused 100 percent on soccer and the Quakes is just a breath of fresh air. And the fans have totally got behind it. We’ve sold out every game of the season so far. We have 12,000 season ticket holders. We have a wait list 3,000 long.”
Another sellout is expected at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for the Sounders’ inaugural visit.
Despite suddenly having more eager fans than seats, Kaval says he believes the stadium’s 18,000-person capacity is about right, especially with the Los Angeles Galaxy clasico remaining at Stanford, and one game a year continuing at Levi’s Stadium, where the Quakes and Sounders drew 48,000 last season.
What Avaya lacks in capacity it makes up for in other amenities: bars big and small, field-level suites, a steeply pitched seating bowl, banners celebrating the franchise’s soccer history, a huge video board at the open end of the U-shaped stadium, and a standing-only supporters area just behind the goal at the closed end.
The location isn’t downtown — as MLS has come to prefer — but rather a commercial area bordering the airport. But even with San Jose’s skyscrapers well off in the distance, Kaval says the location works in a variety of ways: plenty of parking, convenient to freeways, and casual food options nearby, including an In-N-Out Burger across the street.
There’s also the air traffic, which is has become as much a part of the Earthquakes’ game-day experience as the train whistles at Mariners’ home games.
“I think people love it,” Kaval said. “It’s funny because they land in the direction, where in the open end of the stadium you see the planes going by. The funny thing is, (landing planes aren’t) very loud, and so it’s almost like out of a silent movie. … But you also get the sense that you’re somewhere there’s a happening. There’s stuff going on. There’s the movement, the excitement of the airplanes landing.”
The coming and going of jets so close to the open end would be the signature element of almost any other stadium. But not here. Avaya’s true distinction is a bar acclaimed as the largest outdoor bar in North America.
“More than 300 linear square feet bar space,” Kaval said. “All the redwood that clads the bar is from Moffett Hangar, which is an old historic building. The wood is over 1,800 years old — it was reclaimed old-growth redwood. And then we have this beautiful Portuguese terrazzo stone. … Incredible location and somewhere where people congregate: Thousands of people packed in and around the bar watching the game. When a goal is scored in that end, people go crazy. It’s just one of the great views. When Fox comes or ESPN, they love getting that footage because it’s so authentic and so exciting to see all the people celebrating in a real way. It’s a definite signature item of the stadium.”
With both teams neck and neck heading down the stretch of the playoff race, the Sounders want to keep that bar as silent as those landing planes.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808
SEATTLE (13-13-2; 41 POINTS) AT SAN JOSE (11-11-5; 38 POINTS)
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Avaya Stadium, San Jose, California.
TV: JOEtv. Radio: 97.3-FM.
Head to head: San Jose leads the regular-season series, 10-6-2, and 5-1-1 in the Bay Area. The Quakes won in the second week of this MLS season, 3-2; and 2-0 on June 20, both in Seattle. This is the Sounders first visit to Avaya Stadium, and the final scheduled meeting of this season.
Notes: The Sounders are in a three-way tie for fourth place in the West — the three final playoff spots. San Jose is seventh. … Both teams have allowed 31 goals this season. Seattle has scored 34 and San Jose 33. … The Quakes have won four of their last five games, while Seattle has won three of its last four. … Seattle will be coached by first assistant Brian Schmetzer because Sigi Schmid remained home on the advice of his doctors. Schmetzer also coached the first Sounders-Earthquakes game of this season while Schmid attended a family wedding. Schmetzer is 3-1 when filling in for Schmid. … Chris Wondolowski leads San Jose with 13 goals; DP Matias Perez Garcia has six assists. Obafemi Martins leads the Sounders with 11; Clint Dempsey has six assists. … Dempsey (hamstring) is questionable. Seattle defender Roman Torres and midfielder Marco Pappa are expected to be available after returning from international duty at midweek. Midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz could make his Sounders’ debut, which has been delayed by a quadriceps injury. The Sounders will be without midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, who is serving a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation. … San Jose designated player Innocent Emeghara (knee) is out, as is Steven Lenhart (knee), Jordan Stewart (Achilles), Victor Bernardez (hamstring) and Khari Stevenson (calf). … Four former Sounders are on the Quakes’ roster: Cordell Cato, Sanna Nyassi, Mike Fucito and Brian Meredith. … The referee is Jorge Gonzalez.
Quote: “They’re obviously a team that’s had our number, especially in San Jose; and this year beating us twice at home. Difficult opponent, and I think we’re both fighting for our playoff lives at this point. As weeks go by and still nobody’s safe; nobody’s safe. It’s an interesting battle.” — Seattle captain Brad Evans.