By Michael Neill
Updated September 23, 1996 12:00 PM

SOCCER FANS AT THE ROSE BOWL are on their feet. Not a single goal has been scored, not a shot taken. Indeed, the day’s doubleheader—the U.S. national team vs. the Mexico national team, followed by the Los Angeles Galaxy against the Tampa Bay Mutiny—hasn’t even started: 90,000 people are screaming their heads off during the warmup period. The object of their hysteria? Jorge Campos, 29, the quicksilver goalie for both Mexico and the Galaxy, a national hero in his homeland and, after just six months, a hero in L.A.

Campos’s daredevil play hasn’t just helped make Los Angeles one of the powers in Major League Soccer—the team will be heading into the playoffs starting Sept. 24—it has made him a superstar in the new 10-team league. “Jorge,” says Mike Sorber, 25, a U.S. National Team midfielder for the Kansas City Wiz, “is like the Michael Jordan of Mexico. He’s one of the top goalkeepers in the world. He has a lot of flair and charisma.”

Campos’s fan appeal outshines even that of teammate Andrew Shue, a former Dartmouth standout whose night job is as a heartthrob on Melrose Place. And Campos, who grew up in Acapulco on his well-to-do parents’ cattle ranch and whose first love was surfing, speaks only a little English. Through an interpreter, he is quick to profess puzzlement at the fans, many of them young women, who sometimes mob him. “I have always thought,” he says, “the people who really are famous are the movie stars. It’s difficult to think that I am a star. It excites me. It gives me chills.”

Campos’s very athletic, very unorthodox playing style has the same effect on his opponents. He has all the hair-trigger reactions needed to play goal, but he also has the speed and dribbling ability of a forward. In fact, he’s quite capable of switching jerseys and playing forward—as he did during the second half of the Tampa Bay game—a display of versatility that is almost unheard-of in soccer. “Jorge’s been very important to the league and to the team in many ways,” Sunil Gulati, MLS’s deputy commissioner, told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year. “We wanted to send a message about acquiring an attacking, entertaining player, and even as a goalkeeper he does that.”

A high-wattage Campos will be needed to keep the MLS from suffering the fate of the previous attempt to introduce pro soccer to the U.S. The North American Soccer League, started in 1968, fizzled out in 1985. Since signing with the Galaxy in June 1995—the eight-year pro still plays for Mexico City’s Club Atlante—Campos has spent much of his time on the road or traveling to rejoin Mexico’s national team, for which he has played about 60 times. So far, he has had little time to spend with his girlfriend, an aspiring model who lives in Acapulco. In October, after the MLS playoffs, he will return to Club Atlante, for which he will play until the Galaxy begins its season next year. Campos also has several lucrative endorsement contracts, including a deal with Nike, which markets a brightly hued line of Jorge Campos goalie uniforms.

Despite his wealth, however, Campos lives in a modest, sparsely furnished apartment in L.A.’s Westwood section. For fun, he pals around until the wee hours with Galaxy teammates Jorge Salcedo and Guillermo Jara. “Jorge never wants to sleep at night,” says Salcedo, 23, a midfielder. “He likes to have a good time. The unique thing is that he doesn’t drink at all, he doesn’t smoke at all. His favorite drink is orange juice.” If he ever OD’s, his friends add, it’ll be on Häagen-Dazs. “He always asks for ice cream,” says Jara, 22, a forward. “That’s pretty much his diet.”

Adoration? All the ice cream he can eat? Sounds good to Campos. “I love Los Angeles. I would love to continue playing here,” he says. “Soccer has been very good to me.”


TIM MAY in Los Angeles