While soccer continues to grow in the United States, it’s smaller sibling futsal seems to be soaking up a lot of attention and perhaps growing at an even quicker pace. And that’s a good sign for American soccer.
Futsal is a modified version of traditional soccer usually played indoors with five players a side, and it features more scoring and a faster pace. The game is immensely popular in places like Europe and South America where it’s a way of life for young aspiring soccer players.
Name an international superstar and chances are they played futsal growing up and many still play to this day. Even Cristiano Ronaldo, fresh off winning his fourth Ballon d’Or, has always credited futsal with playing a major role in shaping him as a player.
"In Portugal, all we played growing up was futsal. The smaller court helped my footwork skills, and the nature of the game made me feel so free when I played. If it wasn't for futsal, I would definitely not be the player I am today." –Cristiano Ronaldo
Testimonials like that from the sport’s stars have helped fuel futsal’s growth around the world, especially in the United States. While U.S. Soccer continues to work toward prominence on a global level, one of the biggest knocks on its players has been the lack of creativity. Futsal craves creativity.
On Sunday, Jan. 8, FCUSA New Jersey began its eight-week futsal league at the Purnell School in Pottersville. Participation is not only open to club members, but players from outside FCUSA NJ are also welcome.
The league registered 126 players with 90 FCUSA NJ players and 36 from outside the club. On the pitch, certain ages are combined and boys and girls are mixed together to form the teams.
When the whistle blows, the game is put in the hands of the players, and that means no coaches. After all, kids are used to gathering their friends and playing sports in the backyard, an empty street or the park.
Without coaches constantly barking orders it’s up to the players to develop and showcase their creativity both mentally and physically. With a smaller, hard-surfaced pitch and fewer players, futsal requires a high level of ball control and technique. Futsal also helps players work on skills like agility, 1-on-1 situations, improvisation and passing in tight spaces. Like soccer, communication is also important, and without coaches it’s all up to the players to talk to each other.
After two weeks, players in the FCUSA NJ futsal league are having a blast and especially enjoying the freedom to improvise during the games.
The 126 players in the FCUSA NJ league are part of the estimated 30 million people that play the sport worldwide. The popularity has even spurred the Professional Futsal League in the United States, backed by Dallas Mavericks owner and well-known investor Mark Cuban. The league plans on rolling out exhibition games this year followed by its first season in 2018.
It’s clear the United States is embracing futsal like never before. The game’s popularity is skyrocketing, and as evidenced by other nations around the globe, it can be used to help accelerate player development.
Only time will tell, but for now, the futsal craze is real.