Games Grownups Play

Recruiting violations. Cutthroat competion. Big money. Larger egos. It isn't NCAA football. It's kids' soccer, Dallas style.

For nine years, Nazari coached several teams in the Storm Soccer Club. But Nazari was getting restless. He wanted to create something exceptional. "I wanted a club that would be able to compete nationally," he explains, "not just one or two teams, but all the teams in the club. I am very competitive. I am a Jerry Jones-type person."

He traveled the country studying the most successful teams: the St. Louis Busch, a club sponsored by the beer manufacturer; the Clearwater Chargers in Florida; the La Jolla Nomads; and the Houston Texans, which is run by Nazari's old friend, Roy Reese. Nazari was impressed with these clubs' high level of professional coaching and their individual and team achievements. Reese agreed to help Nazari start a Dallas division of the Texans and three years ago, in the middle of the season, Nazari launched the Dallas Texans, filling his roster by luring the best teams from the Storm club and winning the everlasting resentment of the other clubs.

Nazari says he wants to create "not just good soccer players, but good human beings." But it is the victories of his 18 teams on the field that Nazari brags about. Besides snagging first place in several age groups in the Classic League, his under-14 and under-12 Texans both won first place in the Dallas Cup, one of the most prestigious youth tournaments in the world. Last summer, his under-16 team won the Gothia Cup in Sweden--in front of 30,000 spectators--the first time a U.S. team has won that tournament in any age group. One of his under-17 players competed in the World Cup on the U.S. team. By his count, 30 of his players have gotten scholarships to colleges.

The Dallas Texans are sponsored by the sportswear manufacturer, Xara, which gives Nazari's players discounts on uniforms. Nazari and the Houston Texans are in the midst of negotiations with Nike, which he says is interested in putting together a sponsorship package. "Soccer has given me everything I need and want, everything I dreamed for: love, fame, money, friends."

And enemies?
He shakes his head. "When you are successful you have enemies. The only complaint I have about success is that you are always alone."

The anger of the other clubs reached a fever pitch last year. One night at the beginning of the 1994-'95 fall season, representatives from more than 60 percent of the select soccer clubs gathered at the Harvey Hotel in North Dallas--the official hotel of NTSSA--to air their grievances against the Texans. They complained that Nazari approached their star players in midseason to encourage them to play for him. Some managers complained that Nazari had offered their players--who were not financially needy--promises of scholarships and free shoes to play for him. Others alleged that Nazari, who is also a staff coach for the state Olympic Development Program, used his position to promise players slots on state ODP teams.

More than a half-dozen of the people in the room put their complaints against Nazari in writing and sent them to the governing board of the Classic League. The Classic League Appeals and Discipline committee voted to sanction Nazari and his team: The Texans were not allowed to recruit any Classic Division 1 players the next year during tryouts and Nazari was on probation for two years. If he did anything wrong again, he would be banned from coaching in this area.

But Nazari appealed the decision to the NTSSA board, which threw out all of the Classic League's sanctions. The Classic League, in turn, appealed to the appeals and discipline committee, which decided to place Nazari on probation for a year.

Nazari says the other clubs feared the Texans so much that they would do anything to stop him. "There is no such thing as recruiting illegally," he says. "The whole sport is based on recruiting. We're a youth organization. We don't offer anyone money. We've had enough success in the last few years. Our record speaks for itself."

One North Dallas parent says that other teams have given scholarships as recruiting inducements, but that no one complained because the teams haven't been as successful as the Texans. What parents are worried about is that the Dallas Texans will become so powerful and the competition so lopsided that the rest of the teams will collapse.

"He may call that sour grapes," says one mother. "I call it unhealthy competition."

Nazari says that instead of running him down, other clubs should be imitating him. "For soccer to grow and be successful, we need a lot of clubs like the Texans," he says. "For our players to get better, we need a lot of good and successful teams we can play against."

On the heels of the squabble with Nazari came what some soccer insiders have taken to calling "Sonnygate."

On a Sunday evening last March, Sonny Newsom, the under-13 commissioner for the Classic League Division 1, received a phone call at his home from Jeannie Bradford, a parent from the Texans, who also is the registrar for the Dallas North Chamber of Commerce Soccer Association, to discuss a player registration. Newsom gave the information to Bradford, but as he was hanging up the phone, he heard Bradford talking to someone else on the line--another woman actively involved in select soccer in Dallas. Newsom realized that it had been a conference call. When he heard them discuss recruiting during the playing season--which could potentially be a rule violation--Newsom decided to tape the conversation.

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