New York City Football Club will take the field at Yankee Stadium Sunday, marking the return of full-time, major league professional soccer to the five boroughs.
Fans across the city hope and expect that the brand new Major League Soccer team will spur fervent interest in the "world's game."
"A lot of people who live here are from other countries, a lot of which are football first nations, so you're going to have a lot of soccer fans here," said Greg Pinel, 46, the founder and president of World Soccer Project, which runs an amateur league in the city. "I think what you've got a lot of fans-in-waiting."
The last time a major soccer team played in the five boroughs was in 1976, when the original New York Cosmos played at Yankee Stadium before moving to the Meadowlands.
An influx of immigrants from soccer-crazed countries has boosted the sport's following since then, according to experts.
The enthusiasm is such that you can hardly find an outdoor space in the city without a soccer game going on when the weather is right, said Andrew So, the executive director of South Bronx United, which provides soccer programs for more than 600 boys and girls.
"There are a lot of young [immigrant] professionals who grew up in the city and they are growing up with their connection to the sport," he said.
Marty von Wuthenau, a spokesman for NYCFC, said young professionals and families have made up a large chunk of the 15,000 fans who have purchased season tickets so far.
"We are getting die hard soccer fans who have been waiting for this," he said.
Although the New York Red Bulls of MLS, formerly known as the Metrostars, have been around since the league started and the rebooted Cosmos of the North American Soccer League returned to play in 2013, most fans say they've had a hard time connecting with them because they play in New Jersey and Long Island, respectively.
Mark Conrad, director of the sports business specialization at Fordham University, said NYCFC's inaugural season should play a big role in boosting the sport's popularity even more in the city.
The club has international superstars on the roster, including all-time Spanish great David Villa, and the potential sports rivalry with the Red Bulls could add further sizzle.
"That's something they will have to market," he said.
Pinel added that the team should continue developing its involvement with the Bronx community.
"They're going to have lifelong fans if they can get high school kids and younger out to their games and doing some after school events," he said.