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RECREATION / SOCCER : Kick Yourself If It Seems Just Child's Play


The Scorpions. The Untouchables. The Dirty Dozen. The Flamingos.

They aren't '50s rock groups, they aren't slo-pitch softball teams and they aren't street gangs.

What they are is proof that amateur soccer participation does not have to end once an athlete becomes too old for AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization), high school and college competition.

Those four and 22 others are teams in the Coast Soccer League, an Orange County-based organization that was founded by former player John Sanmartini in 1975.

A year later, Tustin bakery owner Fritz Jensen joined the league as a player and coach. For the last 10 years, he has been its president.

In that capacity, he arranges schedules, mediates disputes and helps teams find places to play each week--not always an easy assignment, as many fields are reserved by municipal agencies for youth leagues. The Coast Soccer League does not receive assistance or supervision from any county or city agency.

The league is one of several in the county that provide clear illustration of the mushrooming popularity of the game in Southern California.

In Jensen's estimate, the greatest area of growth is among American players. "Eight years ago, I would say most teams were 80% foreign and 20% American," the German-born league president said. "Now, it has reversed, perhaps even more than that. At least 80% of the players are American."

The league is not, however, without its foreign enclaves. One new team, Club Cafe, is composed entirely of Colombians. Another, Bolivia, has a roster--no surprise here--which includes only Bolivian-born players. The origins of a third club, British Dominion, should be easy even for non-soccer fans to figure out.

In previous years, there have also been teams that were primarily Vietnamese (the French taught them the game when the Southeast Asian nation was a colony of France) and from Malaysia, that nation having been a British colony. Neither team is in the league this year.

For perspective on the growth of the game, Jensen said the 26 teams in the Coast Soccer League have total rosters of about 500 players. Because of injuries and personnel changes, however, he estimated that up to 700 people play in the league each year.

His league, however, is just one of many, and not nearly the largest. The Greater Anaheim League has 120 teams, the Orange County Soccer League has 96, the Federation Soccer League of Santa Ana has 60 to 70, the Latin United Soccer League has 26 and an over-30 league in Mission Viejo, another 20.

Jensen estimates that there are 500 teams in Orange County and about 965 in the California Soccer Assn. South, which includes Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties. That would account for about 20,000 players in the association.

He said there are at least another 20,000 people who are not affiliated, for a total Southern California estimate of 40,000 players.

The 26 teams are placed in either the major division or the first division, with the best teams having the major designation. In theory, the one or two major-division teams with the poorest record at the end of the season can be dropped into the first division, with the best teams from the first division replacing them.

However, Jensen said, things don't always work out that way. Many clubs drop out rather than face what they see as a demotion. Because all the teams are amateur and there are no contracts, they are free to do so.

The league is anything but a pick-up or sandlot operation, despite its amateur status. Most of the men who compete are veterans of high school or college soccer. Some were in the American Professional Soccer League.

League play begins each October and continues until May. Each team plays at least 27 games, Jensen said, with time allotted as well for tournament play. When not involved in league competition, the teams sign up for the U.S. Open Cup, Budweiser Cup, U.S. Amateur Cup and State Cup. These are the only times the Orange County teams are likely to play outside the area.

All the teams in the league are affiliated with the California Soccer Assn. South, and all games are played under United States Soccer Federation rules. All rosters--up to 18 men per team--must be filed with the league president. Players can be added and dropped, a procedure that normally takes about three days.

Many of the Pacific League teams have been successful. The Dirty Dozen, which has played together for more than a decade, is defending national champion in over-30 play, while another team in the league was a former state champion a few years ago.

Many, but not all, games are played on weekends on fields in Tustin, Orange, Brea, Newport Beach and Mission Viejo. Midweek games are also scheduled. Jensen maintains a 24-hour answering machine to update coaches and players on last-minute time or field changes.

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