Earthquakes

International Champions Cup brings Real Madrid, Machester United to Levi's

International Champions Cup brings Real Madrid, Machester United to Levi's

SAN JOSE -- Relevent Sports, a division of RSE Ventures, announced today that Spanish giants Real Madrid and English powerhouse Manchester United will meet on Sunday, July 23 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. as part of the 2017 International Champions Cup presented by Heineken.

The match will kickoff at 2:00 p.m. PT and be aired on ESPN.

"The Bay Area continues to draw world-class soccer events," said Earthquakes President Dave Kaval. "With major clubs such as Manchester United returning year after year, it is a testament to the passionate fan base and the top-notch facilities we can provide."

Real Madrid and Manchester United are both poised for success in their current campaigns, with recent domestic triumphs extending to their international competitions. With a plethora of multinational superstars, Real Madrid sits atop La Liga with their sights set on adding to their record 32 league titles. Led by FIFA Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo and Welsh phenomenon Gareth Bale, Real Madrid has advanced to the knockout stage of the 2017 Champions League in hopes of retaining their title.

Perennial power Manchester United is led by Zlatan Ibrahimović, the team's top goal-scorer, and English legend Wayne Rooney.

As the home of the 5-time Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers, Levi's Stadium sits near one of America's greatest sports cities. Opened in 2014, Levi's Stadium was chosen as the site of Super Bowl 50 and has already played host to two ICC matches. The stadium has been named Venue of the Year, by The Stadium Business Awards and Sports Facility of the Year by Sports Business Journal while proving to be a leader in stadium technology.

Tickets for the Real Madrid v. Manchester United matchup at Levi's Stadium will go on sale to the general public beginning Tuesday, April 4. Fans can find all venue-specific and other ticket information at www.internationalchampionscup.com.

"Last year we saw a clash of giants when Liverpool defeated AC Milan in front of a sellout crowd here at Levi's Stadium," said Charlie Stillitano, Chairman at Relevent Sports. "The battle between famed English and Spanish clubs continues again this year when Manchester United matches up against reigning Champions League titleholders Real Madrid. Both teams field exceptional rosters full of world-class talent and are managed by two of the best in Mourinho and Zidane. The ICC is thrilled to return for a third consecutive year to Levi's Stadium and the Bay Area where the growth and passion for soccer is unparalleled."

"To have Relevent Sports bring the International Champions Cup back to Levi's Stadium for a third year in-a-row is a real testament to the fans in the Bay Area and their support of international soccer," said 49ers President Al Guido. "In partnership with the Earthquakes, we look forward to Manchester United and Real Madrid kicking off an amazing week of soccer in Santa Clara that will culminate with the finale of the 2017 Gold Cup on July 26."

The 2017 International Champions Cup presented by Heineken will run from July 19 - 30and feature 12 matches played across 11 cities throughout the United States. In total, eight teams from around the globe, including England (Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur), Italy (Juventus, AS Roma), France (Paris Saint-Germain) and Spain (FC Barcelona, Real Madrid) will compete in this year's tournament. Each team will play three contests and the club with the most points at the end of the tournament will be crowned champion. Each win in regulation will result in three points and a tie will go straight to a shootout; the winning team in a shootout will receive two points and the losing team will receive one.

Arguably the most recognizable soccer club in the world, Manchester United is frequently mentioned among the most successful teams in English league soccer and has been home to some of the game's greats including Sir Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law. The club is also incredibly successful off the field, having become the first sports franchise to be valued at over $3 billion, according to Forbes.

The record 20-time league title winners have dominated English soccer for much of the last 25 years. During that time, some of the biggest names in soccer, including David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, have pulled on the famous red shirt and run out on Old Trafford's hallowed turf. All of the aforementioned names played under the greatest manager soccer has ever known: Sir Alex Ferguson. He took charge of Manchester United in November 1986, before retiring in May 2013 with a record 13 English soccer league titles. The club is currently managed by José Mourinho, who took over the reins in May of 2016. This year's squad features star veteran strikers Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimović, along with young superstar midfielder Paul Pogba. For more information on Manchester United, please visit www.manutd.com.

Founded in 1902, Real Madrid hold the record for most European cup/UEFA Champions League championships in any club's history - a staggering total of 11 titles, its most recent arriving in the 2015-2016 season. In addition, the Royal Whites have won a record 32 La Liga titles, while winning the domestic cup 19 times.

Los Blancos currently field a roster featuring some of the best players in the world including Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Gareth Bale (Wales), Karim Benzema (France) as well as home-grown Spanish talent like Isco and captain Sergio Ramos. Led by former Real Madrid midfielder, French soccer legend and current manager Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid returns to the International Champions Cup for the fifth consecutive year, having won each of the inaugural tournaments to take place in the United States, Australia and China. For more information on Real Madrid, please visit www.realmadrid.com.

For the second consecutive year, Heineken is the presenting sponsor of the 2017 International Champions Cup. In addition to Heineken, the 2017 tournament features a leading line-up of sponsors, including Visit Orlando, Ally, Nike, Chevrolet, AON, Groupon, VividSeats, Gatorade and Xyience. Additional partners will be announced in the coming months. All matches for the International Champions Cup will be carried on ESPN networks including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and streaming network ESPN3, accessible through WatchESPN and the ESPN App.

Fans can follow the ICC on social media at @intchampionscup for exclusive content and announcements, and join the conversation using #2017ICC. Fans can sign up for up news, updates and ticket information at www.internationalchampionscup.com.

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A heartfelt thank you to former Quakes defender Victor Bernardez

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A heartfelt thank you to former Quakes defender Victor Bernardez

This week, the San Jose Earthquakes announced they would not be bringing back Victor Bernardez next year. 

For most people, this news barely registered on their radar, if at all.  For me, it is the end of the line for one of my favorite players, on my favorite team.

Who was Victor Bernardez?  He was an attacking central defender for the Quakes.  When he played, he constantly made you wonder if he was being overly aggressive, or out of control.  My heart would skip a beat when he would dive in on a tackle, and more often than not, he would come away having made an amazing play.

The first thing that stands out physically about Victor is his strength.  He’s like a bull or an angry rhinoceros -- he played fearlessly and with passion.  I constantly underestimated his offensive abilities.  I can’t count how many times it would look like he was just kicking the ball wildly to clear it, and it was actually a long pass in a perfect place for a counter attack to start.  Through some of the lean years, Victor’s long balls started many of the team's best offensive chances.

He was a relentless player who provided me some of my happiest moments as a fan.  I can clearly remember how despondent I was and how happy I ended up being at the 2012 California Classico at Stanford Stadium.  I had organized a trip for my kid’s soccer club and had over 200 people in our group.  For many, it was their first time to an Earthquakes game.  I wanted them to love the Quakes as much as I did.  Steven Lenhart scored an early goal (and did some pull ups on the goal). Then David Beckham scored, Jason Hernandez scored an own goal, and Landon Donovan put Galaxy up 3-1 in the 41st minute after a misplay by the Quakes defense. 

We were sitting in the end zone, pretty close to the Galaxy supporters group, and I was dreading things would get worse for my boys in the black and blue.  Then, in the 44th minute, Big Vic scored his first MLS goal on a swinging redirect off a Marvin Chavez corner kick, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve seen before or since.  It changed the whole outlook of the match.  Chris Wondolowski capped off the comeback with his unforgettable whirling, back-to-the-goal finish for the game winner.

I won’t forget the free-kick goal Victor scored that same year against Chivas where he took about 14 steps before he shot the ball around a 3-man wall and into the corner of the goal.  Nor will I forget the same approach he took when an opponent try to discourage him from a restart after a foul and stood about 3 yards from the ball.  Instead of asking the referee for 10 yards, he ran up and drilled the guy with the ball.  It deflected out of play for a throw-in and Victor had made his point. I don’t remember an opponent ever taking that same tact with him around.

Victor was listed as six-foot-two, but I was fortunate enough to share an elevator with him once.  I’m 5’10” and all I can think is that they measured him while wearing his longest studs on his cleats.  The truth is, while on the field, he played like he was six-foot-two -- and with the ferocity of lion. 

It was pretty clear this season that the club did not have plans for a 36-year-old center to come back in 2018.  In the middle portion of the season, other players found themselves where Victor had been a constant for years on the back line.  One of the things I am most grateful for is that Victor got a chance to be an impactful player on the run to the playoffs.  His passion for the club, and the game, shone bright.  His aggressive play in the September 30th must-win 2-1 victory over Portland showed the team how it needed to play if it was going to make the playoffs.  In spite of having trouble keeping up with speedster attackers, he was able to shore up a defense that ended the season -21 in goal differential, and get them into the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

There are other ways Victor has impacted my life.  He made me care about the country of Honduras, and how their national team is doing.  I openly cheered for a man nicknamed “Muma”.  I have no idea what it means, but it just sounds cool and makes me feel closer to him, even though our paths have rarely crossed.  He showed me how to be ready for when my number is called after feeling left out for a while.  He exemplified so many of the great things about the game and were a part of my growing love for the sport.  Most importantly, he showed me what can happen if a person puts their heart and soul into their craft, and complements it with humility, humor, and love.

Victor, I wish you well in whatever lies ahead.  Thank you for all the wonderful memories you provided me and my family as we got to watch you ply your trade.

Joe Washington is the senior coordinating producer for NBC Sports Bay Area/California  -- and a lifelong Quakes fan 

Why Quakes' hiring of Stahre is surprising, but not shocking at the same time

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Michael Erichsen/Bildbyran

Why Quakes' hiring of Stahre is surprising, but not shocking at the same time

When the San Jose Earthquakes named Chris Leitch their head coach around the halfway point of last season, the biggest question wasn’t why, it was why not — as in, why not assign him the interim tag most people hired during the middle of a year get?

At the time, general manager Jesse Fioranelli's sans-interim approach was the GM saying that not only was the label not necessary and that Leitch was the in-house solution the Quakes needed to end a playoff drought going on five seasons but also that he was the right person to guide the team into a brighter future. 

And so that vote of confidence, coupled with Leitch guiding the Earthquakes to their first playoff appearance since 2012, plus the lack of an official announcement by the team that a coaching search was underway makes Friday’s hiring of Mikael Stahre a bit eye-popping and provides no clear-cut answer to what happened behind closed doors when the Quakes came back from Vancouver following a brutal exit from the postseason. 

Rumors began swirling midway through the week that Fioranelli had Stahre, the front man over at Sweden’s BK Hacken, in his sights. And there are those people who would argue the writing was on the wall for Leitch given the team’s inconsistent play — especially on the road. But were it not for some ambiguous, less-than-reassuring endorsements of Leitch following the 5-0 playoff loss that left the door open for just about anything, there are others who would say that Friday’s hiring of Stahre was completely out of left field. 

If anything, it appears Fioranelli, who Quakes fans knew very little about when he was hired as the GM back in January, is continuing a precedent that he’ll pull any trigger at any time. 

Whether Fioranelli’s decision to hire the Swedish head coach is the right thing to do is yet to be seen, obviously. Stahre built his name in Sweden, rising from the junior ranks to the front of a first team that last year jumped six spots in the standings. It’s one of many coaching statistics San Jose lists to try and assure fans they’re getting a true soccer mind for the job in Stahre. 

Fioranelli and team President Tom Fox are saying all the right things to welcome Stahre into the fold, mentioning his ability to relate to players — who reportedly gave Stahre glowing endorsements — as a key reason why he was ultimately chosen to lead the Quakes (read between the lines what you will there given the rumored-sour and still-unofficial departures of former Quakes mainstays Simon Dawkins, Cordell Cato and David Bingham once Leitch took over). 

Moreover, Fioranelli reiterated some of the points in the team’s press release during a conference call Friday afternoon. He mentioned that Leitch would stay on as the team’s technical director — the role he had before becoming the head coach and that the club’s decision to relieve him of the head coaching job had nothing to do with where the club was coming from (read: playoffs) but more so where they wanted to go moving forward (read: as of right now, unclear). Fioranelli said the search was extensive and that Stahre was one of three finalists for the job — including one from South America. He again pointed out that Stahre’s values align with those of the club and he’s a man his former players vouch for.

So, at least at first glance, San Jose is doing its best to make pretty and tie a bow around what was at-a-minimum an awkward firing of Dominic Kinnear and hiring of a man in Leitch who did just enough to justify the change but not enough to warrant extending Fioranelli’s experiment any longer. 

Only time will tell exactly what Fioranelli is creating over at Avaya Stadium.