SEASIDE – You could feel the energy oozing through the veins of fans in the parking lot, at the gate and inside a jewel of a freshly renovated stadium.
Decorated in teal and kelp blue, the arrival of the United Soccer League to Cardinale Stadium on the campus of CSUMB was met with a huge adrenaline rush Saturday in their home debut against Las Vegas.
The anticipation that began over 15 months ago when Monterey Bay FC became a reality – turned to anxiety for ownership as a culminated effort had come to fruition.
“Each time I see a final touch, it’s further confirmation of how special this place is going to be,” Monterey Bay FC president Mike DiGiulio said.
Once the home for Fort Ord and CSUMB graduations, the Union have a sparkling venue that leaves you breathless with all of its amenities and modern inside features.
An historic venue has come back to life, as ghosts from the past took seats alongside 5,038 of their closest soccer friends during Saturday’s 1-0 win over Las Vegas for a night to remember on the peninsula.
“There is no bad seat in the house,” Giulio said. “And I think I have sat in very seat. It’s just an amazing view of the pitch (field). ”
Outside of some parking nightmares that brought back memories for those that watched 49ers games at Candlestick Park, and long concession lines, the cool evening brought warm vibes.
“I saw my first concert here as a 7-year-old in 1978, watching Peaches & Herb and Kool and the Gang,” Seaside native Cameron Ferguson said. “It’s so special to see this magical place being used again.”
A stadium, surrounded on the outside by 80-plus year old Monterey Pines, has watched soldiers march through the same gates as fans, students from high schools and colleges graduate, and now professional soccer grace its insides.
A festive and charged-up crowd sensed the moment had arrived. A diverse gathering of all ages sat, stood and yelled, signaling the rebirth of a stadium whose soul never left.
It took less than a minute for the first boo’s to cascade around at an opponent’s actions, followed by the first of numerous ‘Let’s Go Union’ chants.
The crowd was anxious to erupt, to celebrate the arrival of the Union. And when Simon Dawkins’ free kick just graced the crossbar in the first half, the noise decibel level got piercing.
A home game seemed to be just what the Union needed after a 1-6 road trip that included being shutout three times during a four-game losing streak.
Showcasing its new ocean blue uniforms, Monterey Bay FC controlled the first half, only to misfire on a trio of attempts, bringing the crowd out of its seats.
Fans were patient with their expectations, only to unload when the first goal came – fittingly from local product Wilmer Martinez, who played his college soccer at CSUMB, and was the franchise’s first signee.
A Santa Cruz native, Martinez, who spent last summer on El Salvador’s national team and is CSUMB’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer, said before the match that the team had more to give, calling the last few weeks rough.
The Union can exhale for a night after securing the franchise’s first ever shutout in its first ever home match.
“It’s like a grand opening for the entire community,” said Ferguson, who was raised on the Fort Ord property as a child.
The novelty and curiosity of a new product always creates interest. This, though, had a different feel. This wasn’t a crowd taking in an opening show. Soccer was in their bloodstream.
No question having a nice venue creates attention. But the opening crowd for the Union was more than five Oakland A’s home games this year – and the second largest for a sporting event in Monterey County next to the California Rodeo Salinas.
The brisk cool winds blowing off the Pacific Ocean that at times was numbing, did not dampen the spirits. The product on the field matched the craftsmanship of the facility it calls home.
Somewhat overlooked in the hype of a new franchise making its home debut was witnessing a community unit as one. Hugs and a high five in the crowd seemed – dare I saw normal.