SANTA CLARA -- The man who helped launched the original Earthquakes in 1974 looked like a wide-eyed kid Friday while wandering around Levi's Stadium.

Dick Berg, who left the 49ers to build a soccer team in San Jose, will take the ceremonial first kick Saturday night when the Quakes christen the $1.3 billion stadium in a match against Seattle Sounders FC.

San Jose players gave the gleaming structure a big thumbs up Friday after practicing at the place expected to attract a crowd of 45,000 for what amounts to a test event for the 49ers.

"I know a lot of history is going to be made in this stadium, and it is exciting to be the first part of that history," Earthquakes midfielder Shea Salinas said.

"It feels immaculate right now," added San Jose star Chris Wondolowski. "I want to get the first win here."

The Quakes added to the local history books in a whirlwind week by playing the final sporting event at Candlestick Park last weekend and now opening Levi's.

While football -- the NFL and college kind -- will be the primary focus of the state-of-the-art facility, soccer fans can expect big attractions.

San Jose will return to Levi's for the next five years to play a marquee regular-season Major League Soccer game.

First up are the Sounders (12-5-2), who lead the Western Conference behind the play of U.S. World Cup members Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin.


Advertisement

The game marks the fourth Bay Area stadium the Quakes (5-8-5) have used this season. Besides playing in 10,525-seat Buck Shaw Stadium, they also appeared once at Stanford and another time at Kezar Stadium.

Next year, the Earthquakes are debuting an 18,000-seat facility that is scheduled to be completed in November.

The field and seating should be installed this month and the Quakes plan to move their operations into the building in September.

Team president Dave Kaval said interest in naming rights for the facility and jerseys has grown since the World Cup. He added that they are talking to every major Silicon Valley firm and have one standing offer.

Berg, 71, might not have have been able to predict the building of two South Bay sporting facilities when he joined the Earthquakes in the 1970s.

But he already had witnessed the changing landscape when helping the Niners move from Kezar to Candlestick in 1971.

Three years later, Berg is the one the one who insisted North American Soccer League officials put a soccer team in San Jose instead of San Francisco or Oakland.

"San Jose is the future of sports development in the Bay Area," Berg recalled telling potential owners.

Santa Clarans might beg to differ, but the tilt toward the South Bay stadiums doesn't surprise the man who got it started.

"It grew and it grew," said Berg, who took a tour of the Quakes' new digs this week. "I admire what they've all done."

San Jose plays at the smallest MLS stadium but the turf at Buck Shaw is similar to Levi's, according to Salinas.

"That is the only similarity," he said while glancing up at giant video screens flashing 49ers' players. "We were kind of in awe walking into here."

While the Quakes are excited about making local sports history, their primary focus Saturday is winning.

"On the face of it, it is fun and interesting to play in Levi's Stadium," midfielder Sam Cronin said. "But I'm not caught up in the whole milestone in that it is just another game for us.

"This is a six-point swing if they win or we win."

  • San Jose won't have target forward Steven Lenhart, who is struggling with a right knee injury that has caused problems for two years.

    Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.

    SATURDAY'S GAME

    Seattle (12-5-2) at Earthquakes (5-8-5), at Levi's Stadium,
    7:30 p.m. NBCSN

    LEVI'S STADIUM firsts

    Saturday: MLS
    (Seattle vs. Earthquakes)
    August 17: NFL
    (Broncos at 49ers, exhibition)
    August 29: High school football (Manteca vs. Wilcox-Santa Clara, Jesuit-Sacramento vs. De La Salle
    Sept. 14: NFL regular season (Bears vs. 49ers)
    Oct. 24: College football
    (Oregon vs. Cal)