by Kevin Cassidy

If soccer is the world’s game, then some would argue – especially internationally, that futsal is the world’s indoor game. Futsal (sometimes referred to as five-a-side) is a variation of indoor soccer played on a hard court with a smaller, heavier ball and no boards. It is played around the world from the youth level to the professional level.

Soccer players find that futsal can benefit their outdoor game. The heavy ball, which does not have as much bounce as a regulation outdoor ball, facilitates ball control, including trapping, and because the ball is slightly smaller than that used outdoors, players must concentrate more when they strike the ball. The development of ball-striking and control skills through futsal can also apply outdoors.

Some say futsal also strengthens the attacking element of a player’s game, an area in which the Brazilians are particularly well accomplished. In futsal, hitting the ball against the boards and running by your opponent is not an option. Therefore, players learn to take on their opponent as they would in an outdoor setting. Moreover, on the hard court that futsal is played on, which is similar to a basketball court, the game is faster, making the slower outdoor game easier for some transitioning players to manage.

Not surprisingly, futsal has begun to gain popularity in the United States, popping up in indoor facilities around the country. “It is progressing tremendously,” said James Oman, President of the Maryland Futsal Association, an extension of the United States Futsal Federation (USFF), “especially at the youth level, coaches and former players are starting to realize the benefits (of futsal).”

Although futsal is making solid progress in the U.S., it still has room to expand. The fact that futsal is played internationally at a high level and has been proven to produce some of the best players in the world (in the case of Brazil), combined with the game’s support from FIFA, could chart a promising future for the sport. Slowing the growth of futsal in the U.S., however, is the lack of public awareness, which hurts the game’s chances for media coverage and funding. “If I mention futsal to a sponsor they don’t know what I’m talking about,” Oman noted.

This article was adapted from the Fall 2007 issue of GOAL Indoor.  Two professional futsal leagues, Major League Futsal and Professional Futsal League, have been founded since then, highlighting the sport’s growth.