But when Jason Mrochek thinks of soccer, he thinks of illegal aliens. That should come as no surprise, since he runs wehirealiens.com, a Web site devoted to outing employers alleged to have undocumented workers on their payrolls.
Or even those who don't. Lisa Balcer can tell you all about that. She's president of the Arizona Rush Soccer Club, a 600-member Tucson organization currently highlighted on wehirealiens.com.
According to Mrochek's Web site, and we quote:
"Here is the information we have received about AZ Rush soccer club (See disclaimer). This information has been reported to the FBI, ICE, and the Social Security Administration. The informants may choose to remain anonymous. ... Employing Nick Vitale ann [sic] Illegal immigrant from the UK."
Those are heady charges, especially against a club preoccupied with helping kids kick balls around a field. But Balcer notes that adults enmeshed in youth soccer--parents and other club leaders--are brutally competitive. Competitive enough, say, to post such an unfounded smear. She suspects a former employee who now works for a different group.
"I can't prove it, but I have a very good idea who (posted the accusation)," Balcer says. But she won't name names, "because it's just perpetrating slander and negativity, and we particularly don't need that in youth athletics."
The same person had also spread lies about AZ Rush on soccer-comment threads lacing the Web, she says. After complaints, those comments stopped. But the illegal-alien posting is a different critter. To have it removed, AZ Rush would have to dignify Mrochek's site with a posted rebuttal.
Either way, Balcer calls the charges pure bull. "No. 1, Nick Vitale was never an employee of AZ Rush," she says. "Second, Nick Vitale is no longer in the states, to the best of my knowledge. Years ago, he was here on a student visa and helped coach kids' soccer as a volunteer."
Ebie Aldaghi is president of the Tucson Soccer Academy and Barcel's pal. He calls the Web site posting a "cheap shot," adding that, "We all can be competitive. As for Nick, he was in town for a long time, with different organizations. I don't know if he had papers or not, but at one time, he was even state coaching director."
But despite these denials, the Web site allegation remains. And so do lingering questions: Are such postings valid? Or are they just tawdry revenge?
Mrochek says those questions aren't his to answer, and he calls Barcel's denials "just a hypothetical (explanation) that we have no information on, one way or another." Instead, the Web site is just "a place for people to post information, to relay it to the authorities as well as just record their observations."
Still, the Riverside County, Calif., business consultant says there is a bit of vetting. "We tell people who want to add an employer that this is not the place to be if you're just screwing around or trying to smear somebody."
In other words, you're asking for trouble "if the stuff you post is not truthful, because it's going to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to the FBI and the Social Security Administration, as well as some state taxing authorities."
Begun in February 2005, wehirealiens.com reportedly includes officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement among its visitors; a call to Tucson's ICE offices to verify those claims wasn't returned. And while Mrochek's site isn't alone in targeting employers who allegedly hire illegal aliens, it is the most sophisticated and reportedly boasts the highest profile; he claims to receive between 750,000 and 1 visitors monthly. Of nearly 3,000 businesses listed nationwide, 200 are in Arizona.
The site has also drawn fire from those it targets, such as Phoenix-area businessman Bob Carlson, owner of Glendale Welding. When his business was posted in November--by a former employee, according to the allegation--Carlson hit the roof. "It's totally made up," he told The Arizona Republic. Carlson believes he was singled out for what he calls "witch hunting," because half of his 22 welders are Hispanic.
Meanwhile, ICE officials have publicly contended the site could hamper investigations by tipping off suspected businesses. But Mrochek says he's just filling a government-created vacuum. "We've even been contracted by ICE," he says. "We hear that, although they don't necessarily approve of what we're doing, they've used the info on the site."
He also credits his Web site for instigating federal raids in December that snared 1,282 illegal immigrants at six Swift and Co. meatpacking plants across the country. And he describes another case where the new owner of a Tennessee restaurant discovered that his eatery had been listed. "He went in and fired 20 people the next day," Mrochek says.
That proves the point, he says. "I'd like to think we're bringing attention to some of these companies. It also shows that Americans do know where illegal aliens are working. So this does work."
Although the site can't prove that all posted businesses are actually lawbreakers, "It hasn't come to my attention that innocent people" are targeted, he says. "That is why we use the 'reasonable suspicion' test. If someone says, 'I know this person is yellow with purple polka dots, and I can just tell they're illegal,' well, that's not reasonable suspicion. So we don't allow it on our site."
At the same time, "We don't investigate every suspicion," he says. "We're not validating whether everything is true or not. That's the job of the federal government and of the authorities, of local police and sheriffs. We're just here to turn over information."
In turn, targeted businesses can go on his site to argue their case. Businesses such as AZ Rush, that is. According to Mrochek, however, it's not outlandish that the club might illegally hire Vitale. "People in the U.K. are pretty well known for their love of soccer. It's not far-fetched that (the soccer club) would have somebody from U.K. working for them."
But to Barcel, this episode says more about dog-eat-dog youth soccer than some freakish invasion of foreign coaches. "What you're seeing with the Nick Vitale thing is just somebody being really mean," she says. "Sadly enough, this is not uncommon in these sports. People just being real petty and vindictive, trying to get at him, trying to get at us.
"It's the adults associated with a competitor," she says. "It's not kids. Kids will call you names, but their heads don't go there. This is a grown-up level of ridiculousness."