Elliot Phekoo has lived on Long Island for almost 25 years, but he won't go a day without checking online for news about his beloved Soca Warriors, the national soccer team of Trinidad and Tobago.
On Wednesday, Phekoo rounded up a group of his fellow "Trinis" from greater New York and headed to Rentschler Field, joining thousands of flag-waving fans to cheer on the team from their birth nation as it challenged the team of their adopted homeland.
Amid a sea of family minivans and sedate picnics set up on card tables in the stadium's parking areas, the Trinis stood out for their boisterous joy, not to mention the red-and-black flags they draped over their shoulders and across their cars.
"We were born into this. Soccer is in our blood," Phekoo said, exuberantly waving his flag Wednesday night as he ran from friend to friend in the parking lot. "Trinis are all love: We love to party, love to have fun, love our soccer."
For natives of the southern Caribbean island nation, Wednesday's soccer game against the United States team was more than a sports event.
It was a chance to display publicly their pride in their heritage, and a way to bond with other Trinis over talk of their team's prospects, reminiscences about their homeland, and shared bottles of Carib Lager.
"When Trini meets Trini, we're all family," said Dion Charles of Plainfield, N.J., who summed up his evening's plans in a few simple goals: "Drink, get tight, then go in the stadium and get hoarse."
Although the teams have faced off before - most recently in February in Trinidad, where the U.S. won - Wednesday was their first time at Rentschler Field.
For many Trinis, the match-up between their men's soccer squad and the U.S. team holds the same significance as the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry holds for baseball fans in the Northeast.
Fans of the Trinidad and Tobago team still recall the 1989 game when a U.S. victory snatched away the Warriors' chance at advancing toward a World Cup championship. More recently, they haven't forgotten the U.S. victory in February.
"If we win tonight, it will be redemption," said Anthony Valley of Brooklyn, N.Y., as he sat in his truck, tilting his mirror so he could see to paint red, white and black paint on his face.
For James Celestine, attending the game meant simply a short trip from his East Hartford home to the stadium. He was visiting Trinidad when the U.S. team played the Soca Warriors in February, but could not attend that game.
He was determined to attend Wednesday's, both because he loves the sport and because he loves his native country.
"We are a party country. We celebrate, we enjoy ourselves and we want everybody to have a good time," Celestine said as calypso music filled the air around him and his friends danced and laughed on the grass nearby.
The Trinidad and Tobago fans were not the only ones having fun before Wednesday's game.
Many parents and children kicked around soccer balls, while other fans of the game from throughout the U.S. and the world chatted about their favorite players.
Tony Marques of Newington and Cesar Huapaya of West Hartford, natives of Portugal and Peru, respectively, were rooting for the United States team and hoped that the large turnout Wednesday night shows that soccer is gaining appeal.
"I'm from Portugal, but the USA team is in my blood now," said Marques, who moved to the United States about 35 years ago. "A game like today's, for us who are truly soccer fans, is very important."
Some of the fans from Trinidad and Tobago were confident of their team's victory, talking in excited tones about the new coach and beefed-up defensive measures.
Others were more circumspect, acknowledging the skill of the U.S. team without giving up hope in their Warriors.
Many, however, said their celebrations would continue unabated regardless of the game's outcome - an attitude, they said, that's just part of being a "Trini."