SAN JOSE -- Right now, the Airport West lot across Coleman Avenue from San Jose International Airport lays empty, as it has for much of 2011, the only indication of its future, a sign that proclaims it the Future Home of the San Jose Earthquakes. However, the emptiness of the area belies the fact that the team is working day in, day out to make the stadium project happen, with its success crucial to the future of the Earthquakes organization. Long-term, that is almost the most important thing we need, said Earthquakes president Dave Kaval on the stadium. That is going to give us the foundation to really create one of the premier sports properties here in California. While Kaval is certainly no stranger to the on-the-field problems the Earthquakes faced in 2011 and is determined to help improve the teams fortunes in 2012 he highlighted the stadium as one of the most vital pieces of the teams long term future.
In sharing his thoughts on how he saw enthusiasm for soccer growing in the Bay Area, he highlighted the stadium as a potential tipping point for generating widespread interest in the sport in Northern California. I think what Im seeing is very close to a tipping point with soccer, its moving really into the mainstream, I think the medias going to pick up on this I think our stadium is going to be this inflection point which will take us to the next level, Kaval said. With new stadiums opening across MLS Sporting Kansas City inaugurated a state-of-the-art, 200 million stadium in June and the Houston Dynamo have started construction on a stadium of their own the Earthquakes are now one of the only organizations in the league without a soccer-specific stadium to call home. While the facilities at the Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of the University of Santa Clara exude a distinctly collegiate feel, Kaval argues that there are still features from the teams current home that can be incorporated into the new stadiums design.I think the biggest thing people will notice when theyre at our new venue is how close you are to the pitch, and the funny thing is where we sort of learned that from was Buck Shaw, Kaval explained. He continued, Buck Shaw, for all its failings and complications, you are so close to the action. I remember even having people come over from England or Brazil and theyre like, I dont think Ive ever been so close. Another notable design feature of the new stadium which has an estimated cost of 60 million, funded by the team ownership was the decision to leave one end of the stadium open, much like Buck Shaw Stadium. While it could potentially diminish the noise level in the stadium, Kaval explained that the decision to leave one end of the stadium open was part of the teams long-term vision for the facility. The environmental impact report on the stadium allowed it to be built to house up to 18,000 fans, but as Kaval pointed out, We wanted to allow us to build within that zoning permit while at the same time maybe at a future date be able to expand the stadium and enclose it. He also cited the similar size of the stadiums in Kansas City and Portland, two cities in smaller markets that put up impressive attendance numbers in the 2011 season. In Portland, the Timbers even had to expand capacity for the end of the season after consistently selling out the newly refurbished, 18,627 capacity JELD-WEN Field. In addition to the size of the stadium, Kaval also believes there is plenty to learn from the already-established soccer-specific facilities across the country, explaining, Weve integrated ideas from Kansas City, from Philadelphia, Home Depot Center, from everywhere, in terms of what we think are the positive attributes of our stadium. Kaval also believes that the new stadium could help attract the U.S. national team back to the Bay Area, where despite significant interest in international soccer, both the mens and womens national teams are going on five years without an appearance in the Bay Area. I think our new venue will be a good location where we can have more games for the national team, he said. Hopefully we can really leverage that and have them here more. While the U.S. national team may have to wait at least another year or two Kaval hopes for construction to start next year, putting a likely opening date in the 2013 season he also hopes to have some tangible progress to announce before the new year. The organization has been engaged with the City of San Jose throughout the year in the permitting process with a variety of studies on the impact of the stadium and the president is hoping to announce a date for a permit hearing (officially called a Directors Meeting) shortly. Thats a really critical step, because then that really allows us to look at the situation and understand really exactly what is being allowed to be built and how it can be used, Kaval explained. That then can really finalize the design and really solidify the financing so we can move forward with the groundbreaking.For more Earthquakes, MLS and world soccer chatter, you can follow Nick Rosano on Twitter: @nicholasrosano