For the first time ever, the San Jose Earthquakes will play a competitive match at their own stadium, officially opening Avaya Stadium to a sold out crowd of 18,000 in a nationally televised game against Chicago Fire Sunday.
The matchup with Chicago is fitting, as Fire head coach Frank Yallop was the coach patrolling San Jose’s sideline when the club first broke ground at what is now Avaya.
Yallop coached the Earthquakes from 2001-03 and 2008-13, winning two MLS Cup titles in the process and also gave current Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear his first coaching opportunity, hiring him as an assistant in 2001.
Kinnear told reporters he will always have a special relationship with Yallop, who he considers to be the greatest coach in club history:
“It still feels weird when I look down the other bench and I see him there after all this time it still feels a little bit odd. I’m forever grateful for him giving me a chance and really being a really good person to me and helping me.”
Yallop will hope this year’s trip is more pleasant than last year’s, when the Fire were dismantled 5-1 at Buck Shaw Stadium on the business end of the Earthquakes best performance of 2014.
Getting a positive result looks to be a tall task for Yallop, however, as the Fire have yet to score a goal in their first two games, and remain without goal scorer Mike Magee who is recovering from hip surgury. Chicago’s recently signed designated player, midfielder David Accam, sat out the first two matches, but is listed as questionable for Sunday.
Coming off their most impressive win in recent memory, the Earthquakes have injury concerns of their own, specifically on defense.
Paulo Renato is out Sunday with a hamstring pull suffered against Seattle and Clarence Goodson is questionable to make his first start of the season after returning to training this week. Left back Jordan Stewart also trained but in limited fashion, he too is questionable to make his debut.
The Earthquakes are also without Victor Bernardez, who is serving a one game ban after being handed a red card in the victory over Seattle. That leaves Ty Harden and midfielders JJ Koval and Fatai Alashe as possible starters on Sunday. Should one of the young midfielders move back, another vacancy will need to be filled depending on whether or not Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi’s quad has recovered from last week’s injury.
While the Quakes are coming off an impressive victory, Chicago is reeling from a heartbreaking loss, giving up a go-ahead goal in the 86th minute to visiting Vancouver. The slow start to the season continues a rough spell for Chicago who finished 9th in the East last season.
Kinnear has said repeatedly he believes every game in MLS is tough and believes Sunday’s home opener will be no different:
“Frank treats his players well, and makes them feel liked and wanted and relaxed. They’ve added some pace up front, like some other teams have. With Frank you know they’re gonna try and pull something on set pieces. You know it’s gonna be a tough game.”
Regardless of result, Kinnear believes Sunday’s opening of the Quakes new home stadium will be a watershed moment:
“It’s good for soccer in America, it’s wonderful for Bay Area soccer. A lot of these guys have been looking forward to this game for a long long time. There’s a couple guys maybe in the locker room who are a little bit more attached to the stadium project than others. I think it’s gonna be great for the guys. 18,000 really excited fans who’ve been waiting for this for a long long time. The atmosphere’s definitely gonna be special.”