By Justin Boron
Sixteen men trample through the dirt kicking up a cloud of dust over a back lot field. They pass a soccer ball in the heat of a Sunday competition. A player shoots and the crowd of almost 200 onlookers sets down beverages, forgets the smell of Mexican-spiced chicken rising from the grill, and jolts up from the tailgates of trucks to see the goal keeper make a diving save.
The droves of Hispanic spectators fall back into their seats, returning to the food and Latin dance-pop music emanating from car speakers.
Each Sunday, a vacant lot wedged between two apartment complexes off Johnson Road in Forest Park becomes a mock-soccer stadium. There is little room to park because spectators arrive as early as 9 a.m., surrounding the field with trucks, cars, and tent pavilions n ready to watch Latino soccer teams battle from all over Clayton County.
The weekly soccer matches are part of La Liga Los Amigos (The League of Friends), which started four years ago with only three teams, said Jose Alfredo Ramires, one of the league's organizers.
The informal games were played between friends, who shared "futbol" as a cultural pastime, he said.
From very young ages, Latinos embrace the game like kids from the United States attach themselves to baseball, Ramires said.
Adonay Oliva said he played in Honduras since was a small child of 3-years-old and champions the sport as an exciting game that people in the United States should take interest in.
As the Hispanic population has grown in Clayton County so has the league.
Forty teams compete in two divisions now, battling through tournaments year around, said Walter Valladares, the league's president and head referee.
The game is short players and the field is reduced in size from regulation fields, producing a version of soccer Ramires calls "futobol rapido."
Fast-paced and aggressive, the game revolves around wind sprints, slowing only when a ball trickles out of bounds.
The competition is heated as well, even though there are no prizes for the winners.
Fights can often break out and can digress into brawls on the field. Last weekend, an altercation between two players prompted family members and spectators to rush the field where the two adversaries exchanged shoves.
Ramires interceded to quell the conflict as people returned to their seats.
Longtime players have watched the league expand and become more competitive.
Esteban Servin plays on Team Cela ya. Moving to Clayton County five years ago, he said the league has become very organized in recent years.
Balancing work with weekend pleasure, he said he works downtown pouring concrete.
But after a week's worth of labor, the players and fans convene to relax and enjoy one of the transportable elements of their Latino culture.
"On the weekdays I work downtown, on the weekends I play soccer," Servin said.