Over the last two decades, Rob MacKay has risen to the role of Queens ambassador, championing the borough as chief of public relations, marketing and tourism for the Queens Economic Development Corporation. In July, Rob was even ranked number 42 on the City & State magazine’s list of Queens’ 50 most influential people.
But back in the late 1990s, Rob was a young reporter and soccer lover with a special place in his heart for the historic Metropolitan Oval in Maspeth, the home field for generations of immigrant soccer players over the past 90+ years.
I met up with Rob in July for a story I wrote for my paper the Queens Daily Eagle. I did some research before the interview and noticed a City Limits article Rob had written about Met Oval, which is just a few blocks from my apartment (The article is dated Jan. 1, 2001, but that seems to be the default date for a lot of the City Limits archives).
I frequently write for City Limits, I love Queens history and I am of course passionate about soccer, so seeing the piece got me excited to get to know Rob. I also learned a lot about the Oval, which is the oldest soccer field in the United States.
Earlier today, I was thinking about some of the most memorable things I have read in 2018 and I recalled Rob’s article.
I have included an excerpt from the piece below. Check out the whole article at CityLimits.org
Most Manhattanites have no idea that it even exists, but for soccer fans, the Oval is something close to sacred ground. Respectfully referred to as the Mecca, the Oval is the oldest soccer field in the nation, a perennial launching point for Olympic and World Cup stars ever since the 1930s. It’s also an unmatched hotbed of young talent, attracting coaches and scouts from all over the globe.
But the players, coaches, and fans who attend games here participate in a lot more than high-level competitions. For these contests help form a loosely organized, multiethnic social club with only one admission criterion: an exuberant interest in the world’s most popular sport.
Sandwiched between factories, an LIRR freight-train line and a string of attached row houses, the Oval–actually shaped more like a poorly drawn rhombus–is the scene of countless practices and more than 500 organized youth soccer matches a year. It is also the bridge that connects immigrants from soccer-crazy countries with their New York-born children and other native enthusiasts.
“Soccer means life,” says Haitian native Hervé Bertrand, as he rakes behind the eastern goal before his 13-year-old son, Hervé Umar, plays a game. Bertrand, like most of the parents at the Oval, volunteers his time to keep the place running. “This field is a breath of fresh air,” he says. “To have a place like this and a community this tight is very special. It’s unfortunate there aren’t more.”“Field of Queens” by Rob Mackay. City Limits.