NO, IT'S NOT true that a fan once called the San Jose Earthquakes' office for the kickoff time and was told, "When can you get there?"

But during their 2001 MLS championship season, the Quakes averaged a league-lowest 9,635 fans. In 2003, the Quakes rolled to another title while drawing only 10,466 fans per game.

That after having averaged 17,559 in their inaugural 1996 season. The decline in attendance reflected the flight of Latino fans.

Latino fans supported MLS heartily in the early years when it fielded several of Latin America's biggest stars but stayed home when the Quakes neglected their Latino fan base to focus marketing efforts on the Bay Area's youth soccer community.

For sure, connecting with youth soccer serves a valuable long-term purpose.

It grows the sport, and the children exposed to a pro club are more likely to support it when they get older.

But one cannot expect soccer moms and soccer dads who already spend several days of the week on youth soccer fields to spend their free Saturday night on more soccer.

The youth soccer crowd can be lured to the stadium for a few games per season — but it does not provide the consistent fervid support that a pro franchise needs.

The Earthquakes were moved to Houston after the 2005 season. What Lew Wolff, the Oakland A's owner and developer who is reincarnating the Quakes for the 2008 season, must believe is that they can get the adult soccer fan to support the club.

The huge crowds that non-MLS soccer games draw and the increasingly impressive U.S. TV ratings for international soccer is evidence that there are enough soccer fans to make MLS and the Quakes thrive.

Indeed, there's a crucial difference between Pele's arrival to the United States in 1975 to play in the North American Soccer League and David Beckham landing in MLS.

Pele's challenge was to convert Americans into soccer fans. Beckham's mission is to turn American soccer fans into MLS fans.

The new Quakes challenge is to convince Mexican-American fans, who are able to watch every Mexican game live on U.S. television, to connect with MLS.

The new Quakes also must sell themselves to the Eurosnob soccer fans who spurn MLS, often without having seen it, but tune in to English Premier League or Spanish La Liga games on TV.

The arrival of Beckham and Mexican hero Cuauhtemoc Blanco to MLS this season will encourage a lot of soccer fans to check out MLS. If they like the quality of soccer from the rest of the players, then the Quakes have a chance finally to turn their rocky marriage with the Bay Area into a solid union.

Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America Magazine, is the co-author of former USA captain Claudio Reyna's book, "More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition." Woitalla's commentaries on American youth soccer can be found at YouthSoccerFun.com.