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Sunday morning soccer at Eisenhower Park

A soccer player at Eisenhower Park playing in

A soccer player at Eisenhower Park playing in the Latino soccer leagues. (July 15, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

This Sunday morning soccer game at Eisenhower Park is a win-win for Xio Contreras.

It's about 11 a.m., and Contreras, 22, of Westbury, is hanging out in the shady grove behind the goal, where her brother, Anuel, 17, and his white-shirted soccer teammates are taking their halftime break.

Looking out over the park's grassy fields, where the second 45-minute half is about to begin, Contreras says she's unconcerned that her brother's side is "not winning at the moment."

"I'm a fan" of soccer, says Contreras, who is originally from the Valle region of Honduras. Besides, Contreras explains, "My fiancé is the penalty kicker for the blue team. . . . I cheer for them both."



Win or lose, every Sunday, hundreds of players and their fans fill the soccer grounds near Eisenhower parking fields 6 and 6A. It's a full day of amateur soccer with the first game beginning at 8 a.m., the last at 4 p.m. With many fans and players immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, where soccer, or fútbol, is the national pastime, it's an enthusiastic crowd.

"I love it so much . . . all I do is work, go home and play soccer," says Edgar Ortiz, 32, a manager at Staples in Park Slope, who was born in Honduras and now lives in Canarsie. Ortiz had played in an 8 a.m. game and is now a spectator, sipping juice from a fresh coconut as he watches a game from the sidelines.

By midmorning, the sidelines resemble a family picnic, with spectators sheltered under umbrellas and nibbling sandwiches or treats from trucks in the nearby parking lot. The players, all young men clad in colorful uniforms, play with skills that defy their amateur status. There are no stands and no tickets but plenty of families with children to cheer them on. "It's fun for the family, it's healthy and vice-free," says Tito Hernandez, 30, a tree cutter from Westbury who has been playing for 10 years.



It's not unusual for family members to play on opposing teams, or for an entire team to be composed of members of the same family, says Juan Farias, 46, of Westbury, founder and supervisor of the Mexican Soccer League of Westbury, which reserves these two fields every Sunday from April to October. "Some families have a member on one team and another family member on the other team, and in some cases all 15 players on the team are the same family, but it's all just to enjoy the Sundays," he says by phone. The league has 20 teams and about 500 players. At season's end, there are championships and trophies given out, Farias says.

Women's teams also play when a field is available, says Mileny Loais, 37, of Uniondale, who manages men's as well as women's soccer teams. Loais, who also plays, says soccer games provide a place to go for "a lot of girls who don't have money to pay the gym or a baby-sitter."

Eli Hernandez, 20, of Westbury, has played girls soccer and is also a fan. "I used to play when I was little; my dad was a coach," Hernandez says. The Nassau Community College student and restaurant worker has been watching the games since 8 a.m. and plans to stay until the last game ends around 6 p.m.



"We get excited, and we scream when they get a goal," says Jazmin Rincon, 27, of Westbury, whose husband is playing for one of the teams.

As noon approaches, William Villatoro and Michael Surdo, clad in red jerseys, are getting ready to start the next game on an adjacent field. The 23-year-old Levittowners both work and attend school. But Sunday morning is reserved for friends, family and enjoying the camaraderie of soccer.

"Each team is a pretty close-knit community," Villatoro says.

Surdo agrees, saying: "Every single team here is friends."


Part of an occasional series highlighting quintessential summer experiences on Long Island.

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