Soccer Comes To Citi As Mets Host Match
By Joseph Orovic
Queens will host the national soccer teams of two of its biggest ethnic groups on June 7, when Greece faces off against Ecuador in an international friendly match at Citi Field.
About 25,000 tickets have already been sold for the Tuesday night match.
"National pride will be in abundance," said Mets Executive Vice President of Business Operations Dave Howard.
The foray into soccer is a long-anticipated one for the Mets organization. Despite having fallen on hard times, hosting the world's sport has always been the Mets' intention, according to Howard.
"We want to use Citi Field all year round," he said.
The match will present a number of firsts for the new stadium, but Howard said it certainly will not be the last time a soccer game is played at Citi Field. The Mets are currently exploring hosting another friendly game between two major club teams, as well as a Major League Soccer franchise.
Speculation has swarmed around the latter point, with signs pointing to a return of the New York Cosmos. Howard said he did not meet with that club specifically, and should the Mets secure MLS's next expansion team, they will have to find them a "soccer specific" facility to call home, according to Howard.
Which is all well and good for Citi Field's grounds crew. Transforming a diamond to a soccer pitch encompasses a massive amount of work, according to Mets Director of Field Operations Bill Deacon.
"It's not easy, but once you go through the experience a couple of times, you get the hang of it," he said, noting this is not his first time turning a diamond into a pitch. "It's still a lot of work."
From end to end, the pitch will cut a diagonal rectangle across the field. Goals will be situated close to the bullpen area in right field, all the way to the tarp along the third base line. This will require the covering of a substantial amount of the infield dirt with grass, according to Deacon, a process of shaving down the base paths and covering most of them with sod.
Deacon said the pitcher's mound will also be cut down a third of its size, and some parts of the warning track will also be sodded.
The work will take roughly 24 hours, from when the last out is called at the June 5 Mets game until the following evening.
The work itself is a pain, true, but Deacon is particularly worried about soccer's effect on the grass at Citi Field - especially if it rains. The sport has been known to turn the sturdiest of turfs into a giant mud patch. Deacon plans to cover the field with a tarp, as he normally would, should the skies open up before the game. Soggy soccer pitches turn into hole-riddled messes, and would give him more work to do rehabilitating the field for the Mets' return.
"If the weather is good, the work goes smoothly," Deacon said.
One "first" has already been accounted for prior to the game. State Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) has the distinction of being the first to score a goal of any kind at Citi Field, though Mr. Met was the keeper, which must diminish the achievement.
Gianaris, whose parents are from Greece, and Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights), who is of Ecuadorian descent, waged a friendly bet of empanadas and baklava.
The two said the atmosphere at Citi Field could get intense, as Queens is home to the biggest Greek and Ecuadorian diaspora in the world.
"We take our soccer very seriously," Gianaris joked. "We're going to need some police to create a demilitarized zone."
Moya took the chance to talk some pregame trash.
"I'm glad to see [Gianaris] smiling, because he won't be after the Ecuadorian soccer team beats Greece," he said.
More importantly, noise makers, including the dreaded vuvuzelas that ruined the most recent World Cup for many, will be permitted.
Reach Deputy Editor Joseph Orovic at email@example.com or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.