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December 28, 2005-January 3, 2006

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San Jose Earthquakes

Dropping the Ball

San Jose was the biggest loser in this year's debacle with the Earthquakes. But here are some other losers who left their mark on this major-league farce in 2005


By Gary Singh

THE year is over and so are the San Jose Earthquakes. In what will eventually come to be considered the biggest debacle of 2005—after the garbage scandal is filed under "Infuriating But Mostly Puzzling"—San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales had a year and a half to prove he cared about San Jose's major-league soccer team, and he did nothing until the last month. Nothing. Like many of the farmer's-town dingleheads who populate our city government, he didn't consider the Quakes anything worth saving. Instead, he decided to pursue a baseball team. Yes, he and County Assessor Larry Stone went to Phoenix for baseball's spring training and looked like two country bumpkins begging for change in the street when they stood in front of three reporters with a poster board containing an embarrassing typo: "19 MLB cities have populations smáll [sic] than San Jose."

Are we a small town yet?

On the other hand, soccer is the global game. Throughout the planet, it's bigger than baseball, the NFL and basketball combined. And anyone who's done any degree of homework knows that more kids in the Bay Area play soccer than any other sport, bar none. European powerhouse teams are already talking about investing in Major League Soccer, and if the Quakes had their own stadium, World Cup qualifying matches would take place right here in San Jose. European teams would come here to train during the summer.

The soccer-bashing shills at the San Jose Mercury News didn't hesitate to jump into the fray and spout that MLS is not a comparable league to America's "top four." Of course it isn't. It's only been around for 10 freakin' years, for crying out loud. That's nothing. Baseball, American football and basketball didn't all of a sudden explode into what they are now in just 10 years.

But if you need a reality check, here's one: George Best was one of the most famous players who's ever played the sport. He was universally known as the fifth Beatle in the '60s and he played for the Quakes in the old NASL days in 1980-81. When he recently passed away, his home city of Belfast gave him the equivalent of a state funeral. The motorcade was three miles long, and by police estimates over 100,000 people lined the streets to watch it all. The event was broadcast on live TV all over the United Kingdom and just about everyone in Europe tuned in to watch. And, of course, they mentioned he used to play for the San Jose Earthquakes. People all over the planet know who the San Jose Earthquakes are because Best once played here. Yet, some people in Sunnyvale don't even know who the Earthquakes are. You have thousands of adults all over the valley playing in pickup leagues, yet they don't even go to any Quakes games. The team never had a chance to fully penetrate everyday San Jose consciousness the way the Sharks did.

Which brings us to the next culprit in this whole mess: The Quakes' owner, the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which has hated San Jose since taking the team over in 2002. The team never had a budget to properly market itself, thanks to AEG, now known as the Anti-Earthquakes Group. AEG never once cared about the San Jose market, and it claims to have worked hard to find a local owner when in reality it did absolutely nothing. It planned on moving to Houston from the get-go.

At the beginning of the conference call announcing the Quakes' move to Houston, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber engaged in the most blatantly obvious charade of face-saving humanly imaginable in a crude attempt to blunt any negative PR coming from the move. He thanked Ron Gonzales for all of his "hard work." But he emphasized, over and over again, that MLS hopes to see an expansion franchise in San Jose as early as 2007, much like the scenario the Cleveland Browns of the NFL went through—a "tear it all down and start over again" strategy.

As if that didn't make the whole scenario ridiculous enough, next came a move in what will undoubtedly amount to being a very interesting chess match if it actually develops: One day after MLS announced the move to Houston and the possibility of a San Jose expansion franchise emerging in 2007, the Oakland A's came out and said that they are interested in purchasing that new Earthquakes expansion franchise if it happens.

Now wait a minute. Are the A's just using this as a way to leverage the city of Oakland in regard to their own stadium plight? Or does owner Lew Wolff, who has massive real estate experience in San Jose, actually envision both teams—the A's and the Quakes—existing near each other in the vicinity of Sharksville? Hold on tight folks, it's going to be a wild ride ...


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