Cross of distinction | Cruz Azul’s visit to Atlanta offers another cultural intersection

In efforts to build a club environment at Silverbacks Park at what perhaps is Atlanta’s most famous intersection—the tangle of cement highway ramps north of the city known collectively as Spaghetti Junction—the Atlanta team relies at least partly on Hispanic leagues and families to fill its three fields on weekday nights and weekends. Watching any of the Silverbacks’ teams, whether the first-division USL team, the W-League Silverbacks women or developmental sides, from the main 3,000-seat stadium, one remains aware of parallel action on the neighboring two lighted fields. Balls periodically arc through the klieg lights, and constant foot and car traffic churns up construction dust from Georgia clay.

In creating a ladder of teams down to youth levels, Jerkunica says he has modeled player-development schemes on those from his native Croatia with help from business partners from the UK. The system already has produced at least one rising talent, 16-year-old Candace West, who on Jul 20 scored her first goal for the Silverbacks women to help solidify the team’s place in the W-League playoffs.

Jerkunica

Jerkunica, 40, acquired the Silverbacks in 2000, the fourth owner of a team he once said carried an air of “conditioned pessimism” (Mike Tierney, “The American Dream—With a Kick,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9 Jul 06). He says that the Silverbacks’ motto, in contrast to previous, more ego-driven American flirtations with soccer, reflects confidence in the game’s sustainability. “We have a philosophy of as they come we will build it, instead of we will build it and they will come.” The objective, in the language of one who acquired the team after sale of a joint software venture netted $287 million, is to make the franchise “cash-flow neutral.” Hence, the team remained wary when approached by organizers of a restart women’s professional league trying to add investors before launching in spring 2008. “Our hearts want to” take the risk of buying into the league, Jerkunica wrote in February, “but our minds tell us not to.”

That Silverbacks Park remains a construction zone, a work in progress, seems appropriate for such a long-term outlook. Cruz Azul (“Los Cementeros”), founded in 1927 by workers of the eponymous cement company, should feel at home among the soaring cement highway arches near the Silverbacks stadium. Both Jerkunica and Ramírez expect a strong crowd of Cruz Azul supporters this Saturday.

Quinones wished to include a story from America’s heartland in his work, in addition to tales of opera in Tijuana and the black-velvet painting industry.

In many communities in the United States, however, Latino supporters do not exist in such numbers or with such security in their standing. That Latino soccer cultures are not uniform is apparent in Sam Quinones‘s treatment of the Garden City High School soccer team. The chapter, “A Soccer Season in Southwest Kansas,” appears within Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration (University of New Mexico Press, 2007), the Los Angeles Times writer’s most recent collection.

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