Goal Oriented

Despite the reverence given to it in nearly every other corner of the world, the sport of soccer has never quite found its footing within the cynical hearts of the American sporting public. Here we don't even call the sport by its proper name -- football -- reserving that term instead for a game in which 99 percent of the plays don't come close to involving the foot. Go figure.

It's a shame, really, because soccer's predispositions toward speed, skill, and charismatic personalities on the playing field and in the broadcast booth (Goooooaaaaalllll!) make it a big-league spectator sport well worth watching.

Get on the good foot when Interliga 2005, the premier (and only) official Mexican club soccer competition held in the United States, comes to Bank One Ballpark on New Year's weekend. At stake in this renowned qualifying tournament: two automatic berths for Mexican clubs to the Copa Libertadores, one of the top international club competitions in the world.

As one of six cities chosen to host Interliga matches in January, Phoenix will, however briefly, find itself front and center in the soccer universe. Far from an odd fit, Marisabel Muñoz of Soccer United Marketing says the Valley's demographics make the city a natural for just such an event.

"This tournament is a Mexican club tournament, and with such a large Hispanic population, Phoenix makes good sense," Muñoz says. "The Mexican community is always on top of what these teams are doing and where they're headed."

The action at BOB is of the doubleheader variety, and features four of Mexico's finest club teams, Chivas vs. Santos, and Tigres vs. Atlante. And with soccer securely entrenched as the largest youth sport in the Valley, this one has "family outing" written all over it.

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Craig Wallach