The ball crashed against the bottom of the crossbar, through the goalie's flailing arms and into the back of the net. The silence was interrupted by the celebrations of the visiting team's players and their few fans.
A day begun in belief and anticipation was ending in defeat and disgust.
We still had time, but not much.
Our team, the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer, needed to win this final game of the regular season to guarantee a spot in the playoffs. The Quakes had endured a season as shifting as land created by dredged fill from the San Francisco Bay during a temblor, looking like a playoff team one week but laying an egg the next. The team fired a coach who had won multiple league titles partway through the season, replacing him with the technical director who had no professional coaching experience, and who coached like it, at least from this amateur's perspective. They entered the final match with a laughable -22 goal difference.
I arrived early, as is my habit. The stadium was already buzzing, many adults clad in the jerseys of their favorite teams from Mexico, Central America or Europe, the kids often favoring Quakes gear or the shirts from their local youth leagues. Though the dominant language is English, Spanish abounds along with smatterings of other languages.
A few seats down, a father discussed tactics in a thick eastern European accent with his young son, who listened attentively. The tutorial continued throughout the match.
At $40 a pop for good seats, and much less for locations higher up or behind the one goal that isn't taken up by what the Quakes claim is the largest outdoor bar at a sports stadium, a Quakes match remains affordable relative to other major sporting events. Prices increased a bit when the new stadium opened a few years back, but the increase is worth it, to me at least, especially since parking is free if you're willing to find a spot in a nearby neighborhood and walk for 20 minutes.
Though still a blip on the Richter scale of a saturated professional sports market (I'm trying to keep the puns to a minimum, I swear), the standard of play in Major League Soccer has improved from deplorable in the early years to poor by the mid-2000s, to mediocre by the beginning of this decade to its current state as a middle-of-the-pack professional league that – unlike many leagues of similar stature – is still improving year by year.
A founding member of MLS, the San Jose Clash (as they were called until 1999) played at San Jose State University's Spartan Stadium until 2005, when the team up and moved to Houston. After a three-year hiatus, the league awarded San Jose a new franchise, based in large part on a plan to build a soccer-specific stadium.
Though an expansion team, San Jose retained the logo, name and history of the old Quakes, through a bit of revisionist history similar to when the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens, only for the NFL to inexplicably reward a new franchise to lose the majority of their games in Cleveland.