Sam Maller | Staff PhotographerMen's Soccer
The ‘Greek section’: Stamoulacatos’ family brings international feel to SU Soccer Stadium
Twenty pigtailed pre-teen Greek girls overtook the loud and stomping rendition of “Let’s-Go, Or-ange” at SU Soccer Stadium.
“Por-To-Kal-I,” went their new chant, high-pitched and just as loud. “Por-To-Kal-I.”
They giggled when other fans joined in. Yet another part of this Syracuse men’s soccer season had gone Greek — something the four generations and nearly 200 members of the extended family in attendance say they’re proud of as they watch Stefanos Stamoulacatos play at each game.
Stamoulacatos, a local product out of West Genesee High School, starts for a rejuvenated Syracuse team this season. And for every home game, his family packs the now-anointed “Greek Section” at SU Soccer Stadium for something that’s much more than just a 90-minute game.
With an orange, tie-dyed Greek flag as its banner, each game is a cultural event. And with the screaming little cousins that translate English chants for all to hear, but few to understand, it’s also a family reunion. But only after an excessive tailgate spread and a few Greek curse words in the Manley Field House parking lot does the hometown kid suit up for his hometown team.
That’s when the fun really begins.
“They’re all crazy,” Stamoulacatos said with a smile. “My family is crazy.”
The two halves of Nikki Stamoulacatos’ world — her tight-knit Greek family and the blossoming soccer career of her son, Stefanos — collide every morning when she opens both of the family businesses at 6 a.m.
The first is Olympic News, a newsstand that features a few Greek magazines and Greek candy, located at the Galleries of Syracuse mall on South Salina Street. She makes sure that before customers file in, they can’t miss the tall stack of Syracuse soccer team posters at the front desk.
Then, she brews fresh coffee and plans for the next game day at Cristos Cafe right next door. The team posters are stacked in plain view there, too. And four framed Orange jerseys hang on the walls around the restaurant.
“We make sure that everyone knows there’s a game coming up,” she said. “And everyone who comes in learns that our son plays for Syracuse University.”
Stefanos has been a source of pride for the family for some time now. He’s been to Germany, Portugal and Costa Rica as part of the United States U-18 and U-19 national teams. And his father, Cristos — after whom the cafe is named — said his son fielded a number of offers from professional teams before settling on SU.
It was a convenient choice for Nikki, whose entire extended family grew up nearby. And at the front desk, behind the glass filled with baklava, she gave every family member a call to update them on Stefanos’ game against Louisville last Saturday.
The calls can go for hours during the week, but when it comes to Stefanos and to her family, Nikki is a dedicated promoter.
“We make sure that everyone knows there's a game coming up. And everyone who comes in learns that our son plays for Syracuse University."
Nikki Stamoulacatos, Stefanos Stamoulacatos' mother
The support for Stefanos spreads beyond his immediate family.
“I love the kid like he’s my own,” said John Gotsis, a family friend and a recipient of many of Nikki’s calls. “And when you get to be around these people at these games, you feel like we’re all his parents. And with the food and the togetherness, we feel like we’re all family.”
And his family’s support remains unmistakable to those who have been a part of the group.
“Nothing exists for this family except Stefanos and soccer,” said Mary Sullivan Greenlee, a family friend for 10 years. “They could be focusing more on their business or their church. They don’t. She focuses on getting us all together and supporting her son.”
There are the people from St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church on Waring Road that make the trip. Extended family from Auburn, N.Y., and Buffalo, N.Y., drives out to Syracuse to watch his games, too. On a “good day,” Nikki estimates around 200 people gather for her son’s games. The turnout for the Saturday tailgate against Louisville wasn’t a good day by her standards, though. Just 75 people originally showed up for the full tailgate and the spinach pies, spanakopita and sausage soup that came with it.
“They’ll be more that show up,” she said. “At least 50 more, I think.”
A lot more did. Brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, neighbors and customers came from all over New York. And as they all sat in folding lawn chairs around a potluck spread, they talked — in Greek, sometimes — about soccer and about Stefanos.
It’s not a tradition Nikki plans on ending. Next year, she says, they’ll roast a lamb on a spit in the Manley Field House parking lot.
“Everyone is welcome to come eat and enjoy themselves,” Nikki said. “As long as they root for Stefanos.”
Just how they root for Stefanos is of no concern to her. A family friend told her that she had put a “voodoo curse” on the Louisville players. Others, like Cristos, used more conventional methods, yelling down to the field in Greek. Her eldest son, Georg,e used Greek half the time — mostly cursing.
George, a former player at Le Moyne, implored the team to utilize his little brother even more.
“Do you think the referee can hear you?” a nearby fan asked.
“No, but the coach can,” replied George, “And if he can hear me they might let him take a free kick to shut me up.”
He was not the only one shouting. Despite a few valiant efforts — including a through ball from Stamoulacatos that rolled a few feet ahead of a late-running Tony Asante — SU couldn’t tie the game back up.
As other fans filed out after the 2-1 loss, the “Greek Section” remained, watching Stefanos as he conducted his postgame interviews. And while the group of family and friends waited to greet Stefanos, his mother got a head start on organizing the next time they’ll all be together again — almost two weeks from now at the Orange’s last home game.
“Remember,” she told the group of family and friends, “there’s one more home game. And don’t cook anything — I’ll take care of it.”
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