Justin Morrow #15 of the San Jose Earthquakes and Ben Zemanski #14 of the Portland Timbers battle for control of the ball at JELD-WEN Field on April 14, 2013 in Portland, Oregon. The Timbers defeated the Earthquakes 1-0. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Major League Soccer and the San Jose Earthquakes want fans -- but not the kind of fans that might possibly scare off other fans.
After the San Jose Earthquakes cracked down on its biggest fans -- telling the 1906 Ultras that the rowdy and raucous fan group, which may be connected to a "melee in Portland," can no longer hang banners at home games -- the fan group is fighting back by refusing to "sing, chant and pound drums" as it usually does "for all 90 minutes of home games," according to the San Jose Mercury News.
The silent treatment comes as the Earthquakes, who continue to "struggle" with controlling the 200-odd group of possibly-unruly fanatics while the club prepares to open a new 18,000-person stadium next year, the newspaper reported.
The new fans management hopes to attract to the new stadium need a "family friendly environment," the newspaper reported. This isn't in line with the hard-core group of passionate fans who provide atmosphere -- "a European flavor to games that's not seen in other U.S. sports leagues" -- that might bring in fans, but might also have an unpredictable streak that could potentially keep dollars away.
The restriction on banners -- and a further restriction that officially bars Ultras from attending the Quakes' Aug. 31 game against the L.A. Galaxy -- is intended to "keep a leash on supporters groups to prevent the seeds of hooliganism from sprouting," the newspaper reported.
Quakes president Dave Kaval notes that the presence of his group is what makes soccer culture unique. He also notes that his group has never been accused of anything more unsavory than "drunkenness" or lewd chants, the newspaper reported.
That may be just partially true. Police are investigating the Ultras' involvement with a fracas in Portland that occurred before a match with that city's Timbers team, which has its own core group of vocal fans.
A group of about a dozen men wearing Earthquakes scarves over their faces smashed the windshield of the car of a Timbers fan as he was on his way to a game at Jeld Wen Field, according to police. Ultras members claim that the car was set upon only after the driver accosted a female Quakes fan, the newspaper reported.
Portland police are investigating the incident, but Ultras members say that police have the names of the men involved, the newspaper reported.
Will this work to curtail unsavory behavior while still providing a product for which people will pay? For now, the dispute has left some Ultras considering asking for refunds on season tickets for the new stadium.