The Mystery at Buck Shaw Stadium

Ezra Shaw

Buck Shaw Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes, may hold the biggest mystery in MLS.

There is a mystery in MLS and it has nothing to do with Clint Dempsey's ridiculous salary in comparison to his production, but you're in the neighborhood, the geographic neighborhood that is.

The San Jose Earthquakes play their home games at Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University. The mystery revolves around this stadium where the Columbus Crew will play this weekend. The rumor is, the Earthquakes play on one of the more narrow fields in MLS, but Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter has an issue with this notion.

"Is it really narrow?" he asked. "Because I have the dimensions from the league and it's right on track with ours.

"I have the dimensions, this year, the official dimensions, it's 75 [yards] and we're 75."

Well that's odd. Where would this rumor come from if it is really an average width? Columbus midfielder and University of California Berkeley alum Hector Jimenez was where Berhalter turned for answers.

"I sat down [with Gregg] and we talked about it earlier, because I played on that field every year in college," he said. "I guess the dimensions of it have expanded from what I heard."

Buck Shaw was renovated when San Jose moved in in 2009, so the change was possibly made during the facelift.

Does the width of a pitch make a difference in soccer? Actually yes. With the unique rule on field size variation, a team can cater to their style of play. With the Earthquakes, a narrow field would be beneficial because they focus on crosses and set pieces.

With players like Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon, and even Chris Wondolowski, getting the ball served into the box creates dangerous opportunities. With a narrow field, the crosses will be whipped in much quicker.

"Any crosses you have as a defender to be able to react a lot quicker, so that would be something we'd have to consider," Berhalter said. "That the crosses from the wide area would become dangerous quicker than on a wide field where you have more time to react to it."

After last weekend's crossing debacle, the Crew would have a similar advantage on the opposite end of the pitch as they look to get the ball served in from the wide areas.

The crosses may improve on a smaller field but what about the Black and Gold's possession game? In tighter quarters, decisions must be made quicker in order to keep the ball. This shouldn't be an issue according to Jimenez.

"No," he said when asked if they would have to change their style. "I mean we've just got to stick to our game plan and work the ball around and if it's a narrow field, the quicker we move the ball the better it is for us and we'll be able to spread them out."

San Jose has developed a true home field advantage at Buck Shaw. The New England Revolution's last gasp winner two weeks ago ended the Earthquakes' 21-match home unbeaten run.

Whether it is a narrow pitch or just great play at home, it is apparent that this will be a difficult game for the Crew, as the Quakes look to begin a new streak and earn their first win of the season.

While seeking a third road win of the season, Berhalter will also be looking for answers to this unsolved mystery when he arrives at Buck Shaw.

"Everyone has the idea that it is a smaller pitch so I think the first thing when I get out there I'm going to measure it."

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