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Soccer takes center stage at Citi Field

Juventus and Club America battle for the ball

Juventus and Club America battle for the ball in the first half of a World Football Challenge soccer match at Citi Field. (July 26, 2011) Credit: AP

In the case being built for another professional soccer team in the New York area, Tuesday night's game at Citi Field provided more evidence that there's a market waiting in Queens.

From the spirited chants and the incessant humming of vuvuzelas to the scattered yellow shirts in support of Club America and the hero's welcome for Alessandro Del Piero and Juventus, the diversity of the New York area enabled the match to feel, at times, like a home game for both teams.

Before the World Football Challenge exhibition between Juventus, winner of 27 Italian League championships, and Club America, one of Mexico's most popular teams, the hope outside the stadium was that Citi Field will be host to more games in the near future.

"We need that in America,'' said Gabriel Pacheco of Elmont. "This is going to be crazy. Everybody who came here is really happy today. Everybody will be cheerful.''

The crowd of 20,859 that saw Juventus win, 1-0, was just as animated, though considerably smaller than that of Citi Field's inaugural soccer game on June 7, when a crowd of 39,656 showed to see a 1-1 tie between the national teams of Ecuador and Greece.

After withstanding a 36-minute delay in the first half for lightning and heavy rain, the crowd erupted when a centering feed was tipped by Club America keeper Armando Navarrete and punched into the side netting at the far post by Cristian Pasquato to give Juventus a 1-0 lead in the 42nd minute.

Major League Soccer has expressed a desire to have a second team in the New York area to rival the Red Bulls, who play in Harrison, N.J.

That the 110-foot field, stretching from the third-base line to the warning track in rightfield, fits in the ballpark not only helps explain why Citi Field allows fewer home runs per game than all but four major-league stadiums, but also shows that it is capable of providing a temporary home for an MLS team until a soccer stadium is built.

Until then, Citi Field seems a viable venue option for popular international teams.

For Vincenzo Giuliani, who lives in Rocky Point but was born and raised in Italy, and his son Stefano, the game provided an opportunity to see a team they haven't been able to watch in person since 2006 in Italy.

"I've been a Juventus fan since I was 8 years old,'' Vincenzo Giuliani said. "That's my hometown team and I'm so happy to be here today to see them.

"I wish they would have more games.''

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