Futsal's Growth Welcomed by U.S. Coaches

AP Photo/Ricardo Moraes

The United States Futsal Federation's official website has a bold proclamation about the sport it's dedicated to, calling it "the way the world plays indoor soccer."

Slowly, futsal is becoming the way the United States plays inside, too.

Backed by an endorsement by U.S. Youth Soccer nationally and FIFA worldwide, futsal has slowly gained the acceptance of soccer coaches in the United States looking for a climate-controlled alternative to the outdoor game.

"For most of the younger players," said Sam Snow, technical director of U.S. Youth Soccer, "it's going to be an equivalent to what they're experiencing outdoors."

Futsal didn't always have an American following.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the popularity of leagues like the MISL made Americanized indoor soccer popular across the country--both as a spectator sport and a participation sport. Indoor soccer is played on an artificial turf surface with a standard soccer ball, and allows for the use of the outer walls during play--making it similar to ice hockey in some respects. Indoor players often use the walls to get past defenders, set up passes or rebound errant shots.

Futsal, meanwhile, generally has a compact playing field (it's often played recreationally on basketball courts), a smaller and less-lively ball, and out-of-bounds lines like outdoor soccer. The smaller area and lack of walls require better ball control, which builds technical skills that translate to the outdoor game.

"It better simulates the outdoor game in some regards," Snow said. "It starts off that there are boundary lines like the outdoor game. You have to work a little more as an individual and as a group to keep the ball in play.


"The other technical impact of futsal that helps players develop is the weighted ball. Because you're working with a ball that's not as lively and doesn't bounce as much as a regular soccer ball would on that hard surface indoors, you get a little bit more of an opportunity to keep a ball on the ground and learn those individual skills in regard to dribbling, receiving and passing."

Futsal is also called "five-a-side soccer" for its team sizes, which differs significantly from the 11-on-11 outdoor game. The small, weighted ball does eliminate the chance to practice some outdoor skills like heading.

But for a country mostly stuck indoors during the winter months, futsal is an alternative that's gained acceptance among the United States' soccer leaders.

The next step is trickling that acceptance down to the players.

"I don't think it's played as widely as it could be, but it's growing," Snow said. "When you talk to club directors, they're recognizing where they can put it in their calendar for their soccer club and get it used a little more often.

"It doesn't have to be just a winter sport that's played indoors. It can be played outside on a tennis court, on a basketball court, a parking lot, you name it. That's one of the great aspects to it. It lends itself to being a pickup game, and that's something we encourage all of our players to do a little bit more of."

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