International Football–at Citi Field

June 9, 2011 — by Suman

We’ve been slaking our thirst for footy action with mostly meaningless international matches–the 4-0 hiding the USMNT suffered against Spain last Saturday afternoon in Foxborough, followed up by a lackluster 2-0 victory against Canada in their opening Gold Cup match Tuesday night; the Netherland’s scoreless draw against Brasil Saturday down in Goiânia, and then their 1-0 loss yesterday against Uruguay in Montevideo (apparently the Dutch gamely undertook this two-match South American tour to give the two South American powers both a chance to warm up for the upcoming Campeonato Sudamericano Copa América (July 1-24 in Argentina) as well as a chance to avenge their eliminations from WC2010

A rare full house at Citi Field

One that slipped under our radar was a friendly played a mere handful of miles from the CultFootball headquarters–Greece and Ecuador played to a 1-1 draw in front of a packed house of nearly 40,000 fans–at Citi Field, the 2-year old home of the Mets.  That would be Major League Baseball’s hapless Mets.

Here is the NYTimes’ Goal blog on the match:

Citi Field’s inaugural soccer game Tuesday night between Ecuador and Greece drew a boisterous crowd of 39,656, most of whom were cheering for Ecuador, and provided a festive atmosphere at a stadium that has been home to its share of bad news this spring.

Fans agonized at every scoring opportunity lost and voiced their displeasure with each tackle. In the end, the game ended 1-1, and featured six yellow cards.

The Greeks had the better scoring chances in the first half and drew first blood when forward Alexandros Tziolis, who plays for Racing Santander in La Liga in Spain, buried a cross past Ecuador goalkeeper Maximo Banguera in the 16th minute.

Ecuador dominated in the second half, and the crowd roared when the Ecuadorians, who are preparing for the upcoming South American championship, the Copa América, responded with a goal from center back Fricson Erazo in the 58th minute.

But obviously more interesting than the result was the fact that they played at Citi Field. More from the Goal blog’s writer:

But the night was never about the matchup itself.

The game will not be the last soccer match at Citi Field. The Mets executive vice president Dave Howard said a friendly between a “very well-known” European club and comparable Central American club was in the works for this summer. He said an announcement was expected within the next week. From our article in Wednesday’s paper:

The developments come at a time when Major League Soccer is moving to expand to New York City, with Flushing the likely destination for the league’s second team in the area. The Red Bulls, the area’s only M.L.S. team, play their home games at the 25,000-seat, $200 million Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.

“We remain focused on securing a 20th team for Major League Soccer in New York,” the M.L.S. spokesman Dan Courtemanche said via e-mail. “We do not have a set time frame on when we will add a 20th team. Our goal is to have a second team in N.Y. at the earliest opportunity. The N.Y. market is a priority, but it may take a couple of years before we have the team and stadium finalized.”

Mets ownership, led by Fred Wilpon, has discussed the possibility of owning a club with the M.L.S. commissioner, Don Garber, over the last few years. Howard said the sides had talked again “recently.”

But an M.L.S. club operated by Wilpon may be unlikely given his financial issues the last few months, and Garber has said that there were other ownership groups interested, including a group that has bought the rights to the Cosmos name and is aggressively seeking a team in M.L.S.

One obstacle is the lack of a soccer stadium in Queens as teams across M.L.S. have moved away from all-purpose stadiums.

“The New York market is a priority, but it may take a couple of years before we have the team and stadium finalized,” Courtemanche said.

Corner kicks: Will New York support a second M.L.S. team? And is Queens the right place for it?

We doubt whether New York can support a second MLS team. But perhaps the answer is to have the Red Bulls become the “New Jersey Red Bulls” and let the new New York Cosmos build a soccer-specific stadium in Queens.  Despite our Brooklyn base, we do think Queens is the right place for professional soccer to return to New York City (just take a look at the demographics along the 7 train). The Red Bulls should embrace the fact they play in New Jersey, and that way New Jersey would gain a professional sports team just as they’re about to lose one.

And then in a handful of years the Red Bulls could look to build a soccer-specific stadium in Brooklyn..

PS: The annoucement about “a friendly between a ‘very well-known’ European club and comparable Central American club” alluded to above was made today.  It’ll be Juventus of Turin against Mexico City-based Club América.

PPS: Regarding the Wilpons’ financial troubles, worth reading in its entirety is the already-notorious New Yorker profile of Fred Wilpon by Jeffrey Toobin: “Madoff’s Curveball: Will Fred Wilpon be forced to sell the Mets?”  A classic story of two outer borough strivers (Wilpon from Brooklyn, Madoff from Queens) who made it big in the big city and whose paths eventually crossed and did quite a bit of business together.  An excerpt:

As we spoke, Wilpon was walking through the rotunda of the new stadium, which opened in 2009. The façade does indeed resemble that of Ebbets Field, the home of the late Brooklyn Dodgers. The rotunda serves as a memorial to the life and work of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier when, in 1947, he joined the Dodgers, and who, for his achievements on and off the field, remains Wilpon’s hero. Photographs of Robinson line the rotunda walls, and in the middle of the vast room an aluminum sculpture of his number, 42, rendered in Dodger blue, stands as a kind of shrine.

When Citi Field opened, the Brooklyn focus drew some criticism. After all, the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957, and Ebbets Field was demolished shortly thereafter. Only the very oldest fans have any first-hand memory of the place. The Mets, who had been in existence for almost a half century, were virtually ignored in their own home. “All the Dodger stuff—that was an error of judgment on my part,” Wilpon told me. Still, the ballpark combined the guiding preoccupations of Wilpon’s professional life—baseball and real estate. More than that, the stadium, in its architectural homage to Ebbets Field, underlined the omnipresence of Brooklyn, where Wilpon grew up, in everything that followed.