Like many others, Jose Vaca Jr. left work a little early to make the drive from Uniondale to Citi Field in time for Tuesday's exhibition soccer match between Greece and Ecuador. He arrived at the gates just in time to buy a yellow vuvuzela.
"It's a baseball stadium -- I never thought I'd see this," said Vaca, 24, a native of Quito, Ecuador. "Soccer is the sport we grew up with."
It was that way for many of the nearly 40,000 in attendance for the first soccer match played at Citi Field. The friendly match between the Greek and Ecuadorean national teams, which ended in a 1-1 draw, catered to those large populations living in New York. Even in a baseball stadium, a futbol-crazy crowd was quick to form.
Fans wore jerseys, T-shirts, hats and flags. They brought in vuvuzelas, whistles, air horns and inflatable Thundersticks and painted their faces and arms. There was a blue Mohawk and a snare drum. One fan walked around wearing a feathered headdress.
"We're Greek!" said 16-year-old Anastasia Livanos of Hicksville, who used hair spray from Walgreens to dye her hair a bright blue. "I guess it's just in my blood."
Ecuador played Mexico in an exhibition match last season at New Meadowlands Stadium, but this was the first professional soccer match in Queens since Colombia and Czech Republic played at Shea Stadium in 2003. The stands were tightly packed and fans seemed to revel in the opportunity to finally see their national teams play so close to home.
"It's nice," said Luis Sanchez, 25, an Ecuador native living in Kew Gardens. "It's a comforting experience. It feels like home."
Kostas Dimitrakas, 46, drove six hours from Virginia with his family just to see the game. He'd seen Greece play twice in the World Cup in 1994 but not since and was eager to root for his national team.
"You have to love the sport and the country," Dimitrakas said.
"It's very exciting," said Joanne Touros, 54, of Astoria. "You can see the enthusiasm. Everybody's very patriotic."
Touros and her husband, Andreas, run the Kosmos Youth Soccer team, a Greek-American 18-and-under club that played on the field before the game. She said the opportunity to see professional soccer played live in this atmosphere was especially nice for young fans.
"I would love to see more games regardless of who's playing," Touros said. "This is amazing. The fact that they converted [the field]. You can see this is a very big soccer area."
Surveying the stadium and the large contingent with yellow Ecuadorean jerseys, Touros also didn't seem concerned about being outnumbered.
"The Greeks are always late," she said, laughing.