A keen anecdotal introduction to North American-style soccer--the game called football in the 140-odd countries where it ranks as the national sport. The bulk of the text describes the part (or the role) played by goalkeepers, forwards, midfielders, and defensemen as well as coaches, owners, and on-field officials. But Eskenazi, a veteran New York Times sportswriter, uses this conventional structure to record the brief history of the North American Soccer League--which promoted an essentially alien product (i.e., one without homegrown talent) to big-time status in little more than a decade. Stateside fans, he notes, traditionally have favored explosive contests like football, ""with its promise of instant gratification via the touchdown pass,"" and baseball, ""with the threat--or hope--of the home run."" What then explains the box-office appeal of a transplanted sport played in the wrong season (summer, versus the fall in Europe) with-save PelÃ‰--unknown imported stars? Continuous and unprogrammed (controversial) action on the field, plus, Eskenazi hypothesizes, rule changes that encourage scoring. Or, Eskenazi suggests, it just may be the fact that well-heeled multinational corporations with marketing muscle are backing the U.S./Canada soccer play-namely Warner Communications (New York Cosmos), Thomas J. Lipton, Inc. (New England Tea Men), and Gulf + Western Industries (Washington Diplomats). He also has interesting things to say on how styles of play seem to fit cultures. South Americans, he was told, do play at a more leisurely pace than, say, the Dutch--who are credited with the creation of so-called total soccer (roughly, the equivalent of a full-court press in basketball). For fans with even a passing interest in the new game in town, a first-rate briefing.