The Bethesda team in the striped jerseys was trailing by a goal and the parents on the sidelines were taking it harder than any of their 13-year-olds on the soccer field.

The coach who steals a day a week from his law firm for team practices exhorted the forwards to stop being so "nonaggressive." A mother put down her telephoto lens and started to scream. An engineer raced along the sidelines, pantomiming the action, and swung his leg for an imaginary score.

The teen-aged player on the field was not so skillful. He missed the shot -- and disgusted muttering rose from the edge of the field.

One 13-year-old riding the bench may have summed up what was on the mind of many of his teammates at that moment. "I play better when my parents aren't here," he said.

Come Saturday in the spring, Montgomery County's sidewalks, shopping malls and fast food stores are populated by 7-to-15-year-olds traipsing home from playing fields in outfits that might bewilder people who grew up playing Little League baseball. The shorts, vivid jerseys and cleats that seem ubiquitous on weekends are the garb of soccer, a sport and sociological phenomenon that in some areas of the affluent suburb has all but supplanted a pastime as traditional as baseball.

One aspect of Little League has not been eclipsed: the tendency of zealous parents to become as emotionally involved in the game as their children, if not more so.

Referees have had to hand the red card they usually reserve for fouls committed on the field to parents disparaging their knowledge of the game. This spring the county's biggest soccer league mailed out a letter reminding parents that their example sets the standard for their children. And although no one thinks it is necessary to build moats around the soccer fields as other countries have done to keep spectators at bay, "parents are a big problem," according to Nelson Kobren, of the Metropolitan Soccer Referees Association.

"Fine people in the middle of the week get out there on Saturday and it's Jekyll and Hyde," Kobren said.

One explanation for the sometimes overzealous participation in the game is that the parents of the children who play soccer in Montgomery are high-powered aggressive professionals -- doctors, lawyers, trade executives, government officials and embassy people who bring to the kid's game their own expectations of success.

Sylvia McPherson, executive director of Montgomery Soccer Inc., which has burgeoned into the largest private soccer organization in the metropolitan area, said the parents are especially frustrated if they miss the registration deadline and can't get their kids on a team.

"We're always amazed," McPherson said. "These people want to go over our heads right to the top. They're used to going to the top."

The frustration of being unable to alter the course of the game is more than can be endured for some parents and coaches, most of whom have sons and daughters playing. One coach has been suspended for grabbinb an opposing player and shaking him. Some of the adults manage to vent their exasperation along professionl lines. A lawyer threatened for instance to sue if his son didn't get a fair shake.

Still others, with Mercedes in the parking lot, with "Juice schedules" Xeroxed by their secretaries, with poodles that bound onto the field, hector the referees. Sometimes the wit is less than rapier-like, despite obvious signs of education. One well-heeled man held a pair of glasses out for a referee and said: "Try these."

Most often, the kids bear the brunt of the thwarted emotions. One woman screamed at her son: "Why are you stopping? Get going."

He said, "I can't Mom, I have a tick on me."

She said, "Never mind that, get on the ball."

All the fervor on the sidelines "is the kind of thing you wouldn't expect a person in a $250,000 house to do," said Rick Robinson, of the county's recreation department.

But nowhere is soccer more fanatically followed than in Potomac.

The MSI league, founded in 1971 with just 60 players, has grown to more than 7,600 kids comprising 552 teams with rosters printed up by computer and a budget of over $100,000. Of the 7,600 players, one-third of them come from Potomac, according to executive director of MSI, Syliva McPherson.

"It seems to appeal to parents of the middle or upper class," she said. "In the inner city the parents' push and involvement isn't there. Soccer is a more sophisticated game. More intellectual people are turned on by it. It's not just a knock 'em, sock 'em appeals to more blue collar people."

The game's appeal also draws on the facts that it is cheap to play, and is over fast.

"If it were any longer we'd bring the silverware and the linen and a cooler of wine," said one Chevy Chase mother.

Soccer also has a continental flavor that endows it with a kind of romance basketball and baseball and football do not have. The incessant advice of the elders on the sidelines is often a polyglot of German, Spanish, French and Portugese, a reflection of the county's international set and another reason why the game has flourished there.

While soccer soars, baseball suffers, and in some cases falls off dramatically. Seven year ago in Bethesda for example, there were 70 teams for 9-to-15-year-olds. Now there are just 35 -- a decline that in part reflects the tapering out of the baby boom -- but soccer teams have multiplied from none to 60.

Still, in Montgomery County, soccer hardly is the only game of lawyers and professionals, nor can it lay claim to being the only contest in which disputes and donnybrooks are waged in novel ways.

One member of the recreation department remembers getting a legal brief ladled with whereases and footnotes all on whether someone was out or safe at first base. It was 32 pages single spaced.