Citi Field is now on friendly terms with the beautiful game.
The home of the New York Mets will become the home-away-from-home for the Ecuadorian and Greek National Teams on Tuesday evening as the two sides face off in an international friendly. This represents the first professional soccer match held in Flushing since Colombia and Slovakia finished with a 0-0 draw at Shea Stadium in August 2003.
Ranked 64th in the world by FIFA, Ecuador is preparing for their upcoming participation in the Copa America tournament later this summer. Monterrey defender and Ecuador team captain Walter Ayoví leads a largely domestic squad that also features Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia and Toronto FC forward Joao Plata.
Greece will look to follow up a successful effort in a 3-1 win over Malta last Saturday in a Euro 2012 qualifier. The Galanolefki benefitted from a youth movement against Malta, with Olympiacos midfielder Giannis Fetfatzidis -- who is commonly referred to as the Greek Lionel Messi -- and Schalke 04 defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos finishing strikes from an attack that favored the right wing.
First kick is schedule for 8 p.m.
Rectancular Peg in a Diamond Hole. FIFA does not set one standard for pitch size in international competition, but the dimensions typically run at about 110 yards across and 70 yards wide.
In order to accommodate those dimensions in the peculiar layout of Citi Field, the groundskeepers commenced preparations on the pitch at 3 a.m. Monday with one goal placed near third base and the other in deep right field -- presumably in or near the divot carved out of the right field wall in front of the Mo's Zone seating area. To complete the playing area, two-thirds of the infield will be covered in sod.
That layout should lessen the disruption to the baseball diamond, which was a rule of thumb the Mets may have learned the hard way. The Mets dismantled the mound following the 1996 season in order to accommodate an offseason friendly between Colombia and Honduras. When they replaced the mound for the 1997 season, they rebuilt it too high in a gaffe that may have disrupted Mark Clark's performance in the Mets' home opener.
So if Jose Reyes's defense begins to suffer at home when the Mets return on June 17, take a long look at the new dirt under his feet.
Hosts with the Most (to Gain). While Shea Stadium's soccer roots stretch back to a nine-team club tournament in 1965 and once provided a pitch to Pelé and the New York Cosmos, Fred Wilpon picked up the pace in the 1990s as he opened negotiations to either renovate or replace Shea in earnest. Shea Stadium became a potential soccer site as part of the city's bid for the 2012 Olympics as well as a potential new or temporary home for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls).
MLS has made no secret of their discussions about a potential expansion side being awarded to the Wilpons. Meanwhile, Dave Howard, Mets Vice President of Business Operations, told the NY Daily News in May that he expects Citi Field to host another soccer match later this summer.
Ecuador and Greece will cater to a hungry fan base, but the Wilpons' larger designs for the future of soccer in Queens should kick off on Tuesday as well.
Are You Ready For Some Futbol? A Mets press release issued on Monday outlawed the use of fireworks, which are a common sight at Greek soccer matches. However, it said nothing of the drums, banners, noisemakers, streamers, and flags that both Greek and Ecuadorian supporters call up to support their national side.
Queens boasts a large Ecuadorian population and the largest Greek community this side of the Atlantic Ocean. They may attend the match in a venue designed for baseball, but the supporters should create a very different and energetic atmosphere.
Rule 21 is Greek to Them. Last weekend, the Greek FA indefinitely suspended all activities due to allegations of gambling and match-fixing. Greece has struggled with match-fixing bookies and ongoing fan violence that cripples the in-game action if not corrupting it outright. The referees may execute their duties on Tuesday under a bigger spotlight in light of Greece's latest troubles, as the stakes could be much higher than the empanadas and baklava being wagered by local politicians.