SANTA CLARA -- As Santa Clara rises up for an unprecedented challenge -- the impending arrival of enough 49ers fans to nearly double the city's population -- its first big test arrives Saturday with the first official Levi's Stadium sporting event.

The Santa Clara Police Department is deputizing an additional 100 part-time cops from other cities to patrol for drunk and disorderly fans. City and team officials are fine-tuning traffic and parking plans to prevent log-jammed roads. And transit agencies led by the Valley Transportation Authority are sending out an army of ambassadors to guide new riders.

The preparations, more than three years in the making, are meant to prove Santa Clara, like a handful of other small towns across the country, can handle the demands of hosting an NFL team.

The 49ers logo at Intel Gate A entranceo f Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., July 25, 2014. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group)
The 49ers logo at Intel Gate A entranceo f Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., July 25, 2014. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group) ( Jim Gensheimer )

But before the Niners suit up in a few weeks, the San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders FC will christen the $1.3 billion stadium with a Major League Soccer match on Saturday night. As many as 45,000 fans -- or two-thirds of the stadium capacity -- are expected to be in attendance, and the event was scheduled for before the NFL season to provide a training camp of sorts for local officials.

"We're ready to go," said Mayor Jamie Matthews, while "recognizing that we'll learn from every event."

At Santa Clara City Hall, team and city leaders huddled Tuesday following a daylong open house last week that left many of the 28,000 attendees sitting in standstill traffic and struggling to find parking.


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But officials are waiting to see how Saturday's game goes before deciding on any major changes to their transportation strategy. The Quakes game will mark the first time the traffic, parking and public transit plan will start to roll out. There will be as many as 30,000 parking spaces, with available custom downloadable turn-by-turn directions to dozens of lots, a system designed to spread out traffic.

"We've tried to anticipate everything that we could, and now it's putting it all into practice," said Ruth Shikada, the city's economic development officer. "We think we've got things set, and at the same time we know we're going to have to make some adjustments."

Compounding traffic and parking issues Saturday will be a "guest appreciation" event at the adjacent Great America, which will be offering dollar food and games, a big-screen movie and fireworks.

At the police department, Chief Michael Sellers is preparing his officers and the cops hired from outside agencies for patrolling a mini-city of at least 70,000 fans on game days.

Santa Clara police visited 20 other stadiums in the country in preparing their security plan. Among the tactics they picked up: Some officers will pose undercover as opposing fans, ready to make arrests if the rivalry turns violent.

"We want fans to arrive safely, enjoy the great venue and leave safely," Sellers said.

Officers will be on the lookout for anyone intoxicated and prevent them from entering the stadium; later, they'll look for potential drunk drivers leaving. They will also be strictly enforcing restrictions against parking in the outlying neighborhoods near the stadium.

The in-stadium command center is complete with police briefing rooms and an in-house, basement-level detention cell where misbehaving fans can be booked, photographed, fingerprinted and otherwise processed without ever leaving the stadium. And it will be tough to escape detection with all the cameras around.

"I guarantee you're being watched," Sellers said.

But the chief said the plans will be adjusted with each passing event at the stadium as unanticipated issues arise.

"We have come up with a very good plan, but we will be tweaking this," Sellers said. "It's going to take a few games to get there."

The VTA is also preparing for a new challenge as the lightly-used light rail and bus system prepares to move around 10,000 fans per game, most of whom have never ridden VTA. The agency's strategy has been to work with the 49ers in bombarding sports fans with information and tips on how to ride the rails to the games, and it'll station 75 employees in hard hats and yellow vests throughout the system to help guide riders on event days.

The VTA is imploring fans, more than anything else, to buy their tickets ahead of time by preloading their Clipper cards, especially if they're connecting to Caltrain to get to San Francisco or the Peninsula, or BART to get to the East Bay. The largest lines for transit service to special events, when newbie riders are more common, are typically at the ticket machines, not the trains.

VTA is still building additional tracks at the stadium station to store extra light rail trains to zip fans home after games but won't be done with that project until the first Niners preseason contest on Aug. 17. The lack of additional postgame trains Saturday could compound what is already the hardest task facing the agency.

"People are going to arrive at all different times, but they're all going to be leaving at once. That's going to be the test," said VTA spokeswoman Colleen Valles.

Like the other agencies involved, however, VTA says its years of planning have prepared it well to open Levi's Stadium.

"I think we're ready," Valles said. "We think we've got it so it can go as smoothly as we can hope for it to go."

Contact Mike Rosenberg at mrosenberg@mercurynews.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/rosenbergmerc.