Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fan Review: Fireworks, Fizzles and Fortune Telling.

The completely biased San Jose Earthquakes fan Nerdy Gales wonders why Big Vic's goal didn’t make him smile, whether it was a hangover that dampened players' and fans’ spirits in Portland, and forecasts the result of the Quakes upcoming road game in Dallas. 

Stanford Fireworks:
Tickets for the second California Clasico of the season at Stanford had sold out a week before the game, so I knew the atmosphere in the 50,000 seat stadium would be electric.  Even so, I wasn’t prepared for the volume of the swirling crowd noise propelled by the 1906 Ultras, and somehow I missed the news that there would be a fighter jet flyover during the national anthem – the two jets' arrival was perfectly timed, but I jumped a mile with the breathtaking roar of their engines.  The game got off to a good start for the San Jose with Lenhart’s goal and celebratory chin-ups on the goal bar seven minutes in – he’s such a refreshing personality (was it the gum from his open mouth on Wondo's nose in Joe Nuxoll's team photograph?).  I finally got to see one of Beckham’s trademark free kick shots in person, when he bent it like only he can for the equalizer, and I’ll admit to a begrudging respect for this Galaxative as the former captain of my native land’s national team.  The remainder of the first half saw some uncharacteristic defensive errors from the Earthquakes back  line – an own goal by Jason Hernandez, and another error quickly exploited by Landon Donovan for the Galaxy's third goal.  Fortunately, it only took another three minutes for Big Vic Bernardez to peg back one of LA's goals, his first in MLS – you would never know as his facial expression didn’t change one iota; any celebration was displayed by intensifying his game face from the 'grimace' to 'menace' setting.

With the score line at 3-2, the Quakes players looked pensive as they walked into the dressing room at half time, with the exception of Steven Lenhart, who was provoking chuckles from David Beckham.  Every player's demeanor was intense as the second half got underway, and increased visibly in the Quakes players when Cronin slid in an early second half equalizer - by now, fans were confident that the Goonie magic would surely result in a Quakes victory.  The stadium cheers grew ever stronger, victory songs were sung and the atmosphere ratcheted up one louder to eleven – if you weren’t standing by then, you were on the edge of your seat.  When Wondo flicked in the winning goal, we all jumped up higher than the T-38 flyover.  Wondo's eyes were bulging wide as he clenched his fists, pumped them in the air then turned to the Ultras and kissed the Quakes badge on his shirt.  As this season has gone, so went the game: the Earthquakes held on and Magic Wondo was Goonie of the week. After his post match TV interview, Wondo ran to the welcoming arms of the Ultras and was smothered with pats on the back, more fist pumps and screaming voices of congratulation.  Finally, to cap off the perfect evening with a bang, the pyrotechnics after the game matched the wonderful display of fireworks we’d seen on the field. 

Portland Fizzle:
Only three short days later, the Quakes’ Portland trip got off to a bad start when, for the second time this season, the team’s flight was canceled, disrupting a few dinner plans – after nine points in three games, I failed to register this as a bad omen.  My own exit from work on Independence Eve was later than expected and finally began when I settled back on the couch with a cold brew and hastily acquired take out just in time for the 7:30 kick off.  I gradually relaxed into a postprandial stupor, just as the Quakes fast start was fizzling out – after a good first ten minutes they quickly seemed to tire, perhaps hung-over after the excitement of the LA game.  After the enormity of the fireworks at Stanford, my small screen showed a game that was far from a damp squib, but failed to deliver the now traditional Goonie magic.  The Timber’s two goals earned Timber Joey log slices for Mwanga and Jewsbury who, I was surprised to learn, hadn’t scored all season – naturally, I would rather they’d have waited to start their coffee table collection.  Even though our ever-reliable Flash Gordon pegged one back, the score finished 2-1, and the road defeat snapped Quakes fan Stuart Berman’s winning streak of wins after road trips to Colorado and Salt Lake; in Portland he surreptitiously became a 'fan of mystery' and blended in with the Timbers Army.

Dallas Forecast:
My own plans for this Saturday will be to take in an afternoon San Francisco Stompers game at Kezar Stadium that will finish just in time to make it over to the pub for beer, pies and the Quakes road game at FC Dallas.  Once again it’s a short turnaround time for the Earthquakes squad that flies out Friday for their sixth game in eighteen days.  FC Dallas is coming off a 1-1 tie against Toronto FC, where they got off to a flying start with a fifth minute goal from Zach Loyd’s header, only to make several defensive blunders to allow Koeverman’s  equalizer later in the first half. 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira is back in the mix for FC Dallas after making his first appearance since suffering a broken ankle back in April of 2011; reportedly he worked productively with Brek Shea when he came on as a sub last week.  Ferreira’s return to the lineup, of course, might prevent San Jose fans from seeing former Quake Scott Sealy (the one, the only).  Any disappointment among the 1906 Ultras will be ameliorated by the knowledge that the swap of Sealy for Quakes midfielder Marvin Chavez (who will be returning to FC Dallas for the first time) means the Earthquakes got the better half of that exchange, acquiring both speed and accuracy.  Hopefully, with kick off at 8PM local time, temperatures will have cooled from the hotter-than-a-Roman-candle 98 degrees predicted for Frisco, TX.  FC Dallas’s statistics (3-9-6) add up to a Quakes (11-4-3) victory, and with Ferreira still finding his feet, his return probably won’t be enough to revive their fortunes and break their twelve game winless streak.  While Tressor Moreno was set to return to Santiago Wanderers, the Quakes have Jon Busch back in goal and the indomitable Magic Wondo named player of the month for June with his three game winners, including the all-important AT&T Goal of the Week against LA.  If the team keeps its cool, the Earthquakes should rebound from the Portland fizzle to Texas fizz and win this game before returning home next Saturday, July 14th for a few refreshing root beer floats.

Fireworks Photo Credit: Joe Nuxoll at
Stadium Photo Credit: Lyndsay Radnedge at

Friday, June 15, 2012

Kezar Stadium: A new Stomping ground in the Bay Area.

Nerdy Gales discovers semi professional soccer in the San Francisco Bay Area, and one team that has finally found a home at San Francisco’s historic Kezar Stadium.
I’m feeling restless.  It’s an awfully long time since I sat down and watched a San Jose Earthquakes game at Buck Shaw stadium – the May game against the Columbus Crew when Alan Gordon scored another late game equalizer.  Since then, we’ve had a couple of US Open Cup ties at Stanford’s petite Cagan Field to tide fans over until the LA Galaxy and fireworks spectacular across the campus parking lot on June 30th.
The next ‘home’ Earthquakes game is  the June 26th tie against the Seattle Sounders on June 26th.  The venue will be historic Kezar Stadium, the original home of  the 49ers – though for me, as a British teenager, it was my introduction to a far away city called San Francisco when I watched Dirty Harry wield the most powerful handgun in the world against the Scorpio killer in the middle of the pitch.  Reconstructed in 1989, Kezar now has a 10,000 seating capacity and has been home to the city’s cricket, lacrosse and Gaelic football.
Even with the Quakes’ success in the USOC, there’s a three week drought without a full or reserve squad home games.  Fueled by an ‘I-miss-the-smell-of-footy-on-real-grass’ feeling, I was mulling over my options when I came across another reason to venture forth to Kezar for a soccer game, and it’s coming up this weekend.  Back in March,  just before the Quakes season started, I stumbled (quite literally) on the SF Stompers FC playing beach soccer during a bracing walk along Ocean Beach.  As I watched spectacular barefoot bicycle kicks generating arcs of sand, I wondered who these impressive players were – I discovered they are one of three Bay Area teams in the semi-professional  National Premier Soccer League (NPSL):  the SF Stompers FC, the Bay Area Ambassadors, and Real San Jose.
The newest team on the block, the Stompers are brand new to the league this season, and have been playing in claret and orange in their temporary home at Terra Nova High School in Pacifica.  It was always their intention to play in their home city, but circumstances worked against them finding an immediate home in San Francisco.  Already more than half way through their season, with one win, two ties and three losses, their first game at Kezar is scheduled for 3 PM on June 16th against Sacramento Gold – and after a couple of recent heavy defeats, the Stompers are undoubtedly hoping for better luck in their new home.  The only remaining opportunity to see them at Kezar this season will be on July 7 against Sonoma Sol.
Mike Gonos, veteran Ultra and die-hard San Jose Earthquakes fan, has already been watching the Stompers play this season – for him it’s about supporting local clubs at all levels of soccer:  “We are very lucky here: NPSL has three Bay Area clubs, and three more within a couple of hours’ drive.  It’s like living in a miniature version of London – we’ve got so many local rivalries, particularly the Ambassadors, over in Oakland”.   With the switch to Kezar Stadium in place, the SF Stompers FC will have finally moved into their new home.  That’s a feeling that resonates with me as one of the squatters in Buck Shaw – while we are grateful for the hospitality of our gracious hosts, we can’t wait to move into our own place.  As Mike points out: “Kezar has the history, it’s here in the city, and it’s a great location. Being able to hop on the N-Judah and be at the match in a few minutes makes it truly local football…and with Kezar, we have a real chance to forge ties with the local pubs”.
I’ll drink to that.  The mid-afternoon kick-off provides plenty of time for a leisurely lunchtime pint (or two) at The Kezar Pub while watching the final round of Euro 2012 Group A games on TV.  So, if you’re craving live soccer this weekend, consider a drive into Fog City, hop on a Muni bus or ride the N-Judah line to take in a game of this freshly minted soccer team at one of the most historic sporting sites in the Bay Area.
Photo credits: Lyndsay Radnedge of Center Line Soccer.

Match Update:  It was a picture perfect, fog-free afternoon in San Francisco for the ground-breaking game at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium.  In a closely fought match the SF Stompers earned some redemption over current 2012 NPSL Northwest 1st place Sacramento Gold for a 9-0 defeat in Sacramento earlier in the season. Forward Liam Whelan scored a header early in the second half that proved to be the game winner off a set piece crossed in by Andres (Felipe) Cabrera, and goalkeeper BJ Forte kept the clean sheet, resulting in  a 1-0 victory for the SF Stompers FC .
Photos by Lyndsay Radnedge here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

San Jose Earthquakes 3-1 Real Salt Lake: The view from the bleachers.

There will come a time this season when the performance of the 2012 San Jose Earthquakes will falter, and the fans will begin to wonder if the team’s early season success will translate into a spot in the playoffs. For the time being, I choose to live in the moment, bask in the glow of the team’s 5-1-1 record and wear the satisfied smile of a fan whose team is atop the MLS Western Conference after toppling RSL last Saturday.
My evening kicked off in the Epicenter where I bumped (gently) into Shea Salinas, who was sporting “Please Do Not Touch” across his freshly mended left collar bone. He seemed in good spirits – but then he was clutching a huge bag of chocolate chip cookies. Ellis McLoughlin and Joey Gjertsen graciously ‘scarved’ the necks of five-year-bleacher-veteran season ticket holders, though with game time temperature approaching 80 degrees, said scarf spent most of the evening carefully folded beside my seat cushion. As I assembled in the stands with my fellow fans, we chuckled as we remembered the great deluge that accompanied last year’s home game against RSL – this was most definitely the opposite.
The first hot day of the year turned into a balmy evening, as the sun sank slowly behind the Ultras as the players prepared to kick off. Any advantage to the Quakes in the first half with their backs to the sun were counteracted by the equally dazzling fluorescent orange kit worn by the RSL goal keeper Nick Rimando – think Mango Tangelo tropical Skittles – an unusual tactical move I thought. The game unfolded with the Quakes confidently controlling the ball, pressing on goal only to be denied on several occasions by the excellent deflection skills of Rimando. The straight red card issued to Espindola in the 29th minute reinforced the optimism among the fans, and we were rewarded just before half time with a Khari Stevenson header: 1-0 Quakes.
The good cheer was subdued by a well-crafted goal by Kyle Beckerman, who effortlessly weaved his way through the Quakes defense, placing the ball in the net past Jon Busch in the 53rd minute. As the half progressed without any Quakes success on goal, more than one fan harkened back to the disappointment of last season’s scoreless home tie against a ten-man LA Galaxy with diminutive midfielder Mike Magee in goal. Compared to that game, maybe even because of it, we saw a much more positive coaching response: firstly, forward Steven Lenhart replaced midfielder Sam Cronin in the 61st minute; secondly, after Lenhart was pulled down by the ‘last man’ Jamison Olave, who earned his own red card in the 69th minute, defender Ike Opara was replaced with forward Alan Gordon. Obviously, the Quakes were aiming to capitalize on RSL’s unusual, and increasingly stretched 4-4-0 formation.
It’s not clear if Olave was ambling, moseying or sauntering as he left the field, but his tortuously slow exit contributed to the six minutes of stoppage time that turned out to be crucial in ensuring the Quakes eventual victory. After the final substitution for Baca with Garza in the 82nd minute, Dawkins and Wondo netted headers in the aforementioned stoppage time, with the final tally on the night 3-1 in favor of the Quakes, 100 appearances for Jason Hernandez and 100 MLS victories for Frank Yallop – congratulations both.
Saturday’s performance against erstwhile conference leaders Real Salt Lake was heartening on several levels. It was particularly encouraging to see proof of how deep this year’s roster really is – with the loss of four key players (Bernardez, Chavez, Corrales and Salinas) any other season the squad might have been considered shorthanded. This year, Hernandez, Moreno, Opara, and Dawkins stepped in seamlessly sustaining the possession football we had seen in the Vancouver and New York games; the Quakes played at least as equals to RSL, one of the better teams in the league over the past couple of years. Even though it took a while to nail down the victory, I was also encouraged to see that the goals were scored by three different players: Stephenson, Dawkins and Wondo.
My own ‘man of the match’ was Steven Beitashour, who put in another tireless and creative performance that earned him two assists on the night in addition to his solid defensive work at right back. Honorable mentions also go to Tressor Moreno, who was very calm, confident and poised on the ball, and Justin Morrow who made several incisive and productive runs deep down the left flank. Fans were excited to see the MLS debut of Sam Garza, and while he didn’t have much time to leave his mark on this game, he left RSL’s remaining defenders in his wake. I had seen Garza put in a tireless effort in the reserve league on Easter Sunday, where he earned an assist – with the effective play of defensive replacements Opara and Hernandez, I was once again reminded of the value of the reserve league, where all three had recently played together.
The final relief of the late game winners was still being articulated by the veteran season ticket holders as we lined up down the touchline waiting for our souvenir photograph in the North End goal. There are also many seasoned veterans among the fans, appreciative of the efforts of the front office to recognize our support over five years in the bleachers at Buck Shaw; our squad is just as deep.  There will surely be challenging times ahead this season, sometimes there will be failure and disappointment, but right now the Earthquakes squad is playing well and the roster looks deeper than ever before – deep enough to weather potential storms. With so many hands available to be called on deck, it’s full steam ahead.