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

Atlanta Silverbacks Park, now fitted out with three artificial pitches and a 3,000-seat stadium, sits east of Spaghetti Junction (aka Tom Moreland Interchange), the five-level stack of roller-coaster-like ramps servicing Interstates 85 and 285. (© 2007 Navteq | © 2006 Google)

Much of soccer culture in the United States remains hidden, but matches such as the Jul 28 Copa Amistad between the Atlanta Silverbacks and Cruz Azul cast light on the place of the sport in everyday lives of Latinos. Will Ramí­rez, publisher of Estadio, a Spanish-language sports weekly based in Tucker, Georgia, describes in our Jul 24 podcast how he and many of the 425,000 Hispanics in the Atlanta area remain linked to soccer despite, or because of, displacement.

Spanish people play soccer like crazy. They play from Monday through Sunday. The first league in Atlanta was back in ’87 or ’88 with only 15 teams. And now there are more than 30 [leagues]. I say about 40,000 [Hispanic] players play soccer over the week. That’s a lot of players.

Ramí­rez, who played professionally in his native El Salvador and in Honduras before coming to Houston in 1985 to play for Houston Dynamos of the short-lived United Soccer League, started the tabloid in 1997 with $1,000. He operated from a room in his house before putting $30,000 on credit cards to expand; now, Estadio numbers among at least seven periodistas deportivos in the Atlanta area with a combined 180,000 circulation (2003 figures) (see Michelle Hiskey, “Newspapers Make Sport(s) in Spanish,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 17 Aug 03).

Much of Estadio‘s coverage focuses on the amateur Latino and international leagues. The Jul 19 issue (no. 542) features de rigueur post-game pictures of victors and trophies but also of the game’s grittier underside: a player strapped to a gurney as he is loaded onto a DeKalb County fire-and-rescue vehicle and another under police escort after being ejected from a second-division encounter in Liga Independiente de Chamblee. The profusion of ads throughout shows how the Hispanic community has emerged as a market force. The Hispanic papers boasted of their influence in 2003 when the Atlanta Beat of the Women’s United Soccer Association acquired Maribel Domínguez of Mexico (see 5 Mar 04). Supporters waving Mexican flags boosted the team’s attendance; Estadio, on its front page, branded Domínguez “Mari-gol.”

Estadio included a five-story package on the Silverbacks’ home friendly Jul 12 versus Monterrey. The teams drew 1–1. (© 2007 Estadio)

Boris Jerkunica, owner of the Silverbacks, credits the Hispanic press and other Hispanic-owned companies with helping to build the Silverbacks brand within Atlanta. Estadio features four full pages of Silverbacks coverage on Jul 19, with concentration on an earlier friendly versus another Mexican first-division team, Monterrey. The match did not merit a mention in the local English-language newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The American press has been harder to engage,” Jerkunica says, “especially the newspaper in town.”

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