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Ballistic "Bulldogs" Futsal Club

Bulldogs alum starring @ Quakes

Tomo Allen_websize

Our original u8 group of Bulldogs “pups” included a talented, younger player that raised eyebrows even as a 6-year-old. His ability to manipulate the ball in tight spaces and come up with creative solutions was evident from the start. Predicting the future of a player this young seemed absurd, but the thought was there: this kid could be special. His parents were quick to note his rapid development through futsal. To their credit they made sure he trained at futsal as often as possible. He is still very young, but his dribbling and decision making are unique by American standards. With any luck others will be inspired by his blue print for success and play futsal as often as possible while younger. Congrats on your early success Tomo. Bulldogs and the futsal community are rooting for you.

Read more about Tomo on the Earthquakes Academy blog.

USFF NW Regional, 4 take aways

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1 Grateful for the March Madness

Quality futsal tournaments are far and few between. So USFF’s Regional and National events every March and July are important markers on the west coast. The community gathers, swaps stories, and collectively gauges the progress or lack thereof of our young sport. For 35+ years USFF has provided a platform for youth futsal. To this end, Alex Para, his daughters, and staff deserve a sincere nod of appreciation and thanks.

2 Quality of play continues to increase

In recent years, each age group has typically had two or three quality teams. For this tournament the numbers were now at four to five. Positioning, movement off-the-ball, and cohesive zone defenses abounded. The coaching knowledge base is clearly growing with teams from Portland leading the charge. PCUFC and Rose City Futsal were especially good with their off-the-ball movements; a hallmark of well coached teams. Passing and consistently moving into space is not easy to teach. Many teams are still fairly static, and play is often station to station. Most soccer players that provide the pool for our futsal clubs simply aren’t used to the frequent, instant movements that higher level futsal requires. So when you see a team that does move automatically into space, you know their coach has done some heavy lifting.

3 Rose City Futsal, the revolution starts now

Up until this event, I’ve never been envious of any other club. However, after watching Rose City Futsal’s u9 girls and speaking to their talented coach, Sarah Plymale-Panza, that’s all changed. The club now has futsal only players at u9. These girls and boys train 3x per week at futsal year round. Soccer training isn’t apart of their routine. So huge props to RCF. Pick your color: olive, lime, jade, chartreuse. We all have reason to be green with envy. Rose City players will literally out-train the rest of our teams by hundreds of hours in the next few years. Congrats again to RCF’s ownership and Eduardo Araujo for a vision realized.

4 Referees – the zebra herd runs in different directions

I tend to be very forgiving of referees. There’s lots of blame and little glory and yet they’re essential for the sport. I’ve refereed hundreds of games myself and I know how easy it is to miss a call or two per game. That said, the refereeing was as poor as I’ve seen in the past decade. For every stellar referee like Ron Leedy or Albert Montalvo, there were multiple refs not aware of the pass back rule! The space restrictions for defenders on kick-in’s and corners was rarely enforced even when players requested it. There was also enormous confusion on whether players could head the ball or not. Some referees called heading infractions and awarded free kicks and others did not. By the second day of play all referees were informed players could head the ball regardless of age. For a tournament of this prestige and pricing, the lack of experienced, knowledgable referees was disappointing.

 

USSDA NorCal Futsal Showcase, 4 take aways

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1 That tournament vibe

There’s something about futsal events that create an intense, entertaining vibe every single time. The immediacy of the crowd, the volume of goals, and the creativity of play always generate an electric atmosphere. The NorCal Showcase was no exception. Well done USSDA.

The unlimited pass back rule must go 

The tweak in the rules to make the Showcase more soccer like does exactly that. However, when the keeper is used relentlessly as a safety valve, players no longer have the need to solve problems on their own. Much in the same way walls in indoor soccer are used to avoid trouble, the unlimited pass back rule takes tons of pressure off the court players. There’s no need to take your defender on 1v1 or pass with precision in an attempt to build out. Instead, just dump it endlessly to your keeper and turn the game into a constant 5v4 that slows the game to a crawl. Simply an awful rule that should be nixed. If not, let’s call the game mini soccer since it ceases to be futsal.

Tactics are largely non existent

I once asked a FC Barcelona coach if the 2-2 formation was used in Spain. He paused and struggled with the question for a moment before answering, “Perhaps the odd recreation club still plays it.” At the Showcase everyone played it with the exception of the 3-1 used by Ballistic United. USSDA should be congratulated on providing these annual events. Some futsal is better than no futsal. And sending scouts to observe the nation’s top talent is also commendable. However, US Soccer by not educating its DA coaches on even the most basic of tactics is leaving the fruit on the tree. Many DA coaches have never played futsal let alone coached it, so an effort to educate is essential. By next year every DA club should be playing the 3-1. US Soccer should take its winter futsal mandate seriously and teach the game. Otherwise it’s mostly window dressing.

4 Futsal’s filter catches all impurities

US Soccer is wise to scout these events. Futsal is a ruthless filter of ability. Within seconds you can assess if a player is able to manipulate a ball, make quality decisions under time and space constraints, and move off-the-ball. Raw athleticism never hurts, but futsal exposes those players that get by with size, strength, and speed in the outdoor game. There is nowhere to hide on a futsal court. You can either handle your business, or you get revealed immediately. At the NorCal event only a handful of players were advanced dribblers and decision makers. Perhaps less than 10% of the participants fell into this category. With meaningful, year round futsal training from a young age, there’s no reason this number doesn’t climb to 50% or more.

OYFA interviews Bulldogs, part 2…

FutsalCast Rob Bell Bulldogs Futsal Club Ballistic United

Oregon Youth Futsal Academy and Bulldogs talk shop in a podcast about transitioning to a 3-1 formation, pavement vs grass for development, and the challenges of introducing futsal into youth soccer. Many thanks to Grant and Matti for continuing to promote our sport in such a dedicated, passionate way.

Creating the American Neymar…

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Since the US debacle in Trinidad and Tobago, the blood letting has been fierce. And rightfully so. Pay-to-play and the lack of a promotion/relegation system are the main lines of attack. However, these weaknesses in our soccer culture are the low hanging fruit. Even the casual soccer fan is aware of them. There’s a much quicker and direct route to improving our play. To borrow from a certain campaign slogan: It’s the futsal, stupid.

The Brazilians have known about futsal’s importance for decades. It’s why numerous stars like Neymar didn’t set foot on a soccer training ground until they were 11-year-olds. Neymar exclusively trained at futsal until then. And yet here in the US at the highest levels of youth soccer, some coaches think futsal is irrelevant when it comes to development. It’s the type of thinking that leads to a 2-1 loss to a small Caribbean island nation. And the stunningly bad punch line to this epic joke? Nothing is wrong,” Bruce Arena later deadpanned to the nation.

Until futsal is fully included into competitive soccer’s curriculum, an American Neymar is impossible. Neymar’s story starts with a childhood spent in school, club, and community gyms. Without futsal there is no Neymar, no FC Barcelona glory, and no PSG millions. Futsal is the tool that made Neymar, Neymar. He proudly says so himself.

Pulisic is now the poster child for American soccer and futsal. As noted by Arena, Pulisic does not play like an American. His movement, vision, and technical abilities all resemble a foreign player. It’s as if his father set up a futsal league in Detroit so he could emulate the Brazilian approach to player development. Just to be clear, US soccer has produced exactly one international baller in its history. We’re talking several decades in which hundreds of thousands of games were played and millions invested in coaching education and a pro league, and yet there’s one elite player to show for it.

Let’s not bang our heads against the walls of pay-to-play and promotion/relegation too hard. The quickest, most effective way to improve our play is to follow Neymar’s path. Some young Americans are already on their way, but it’s still too few. Let’s open the gym, flick on the lights, and roll out some balls. An American Neymar will follow.

OYFA interviews Bulldogs…

FutsalCast Rob Bell Oregon Youth Futsal OYFL OFYA Bulldogs Futsal

Many thanks to our friends at Oregon Youth Futsal Academy for growing the sport so ambitiously. Part of their strategy is the creation of a weekly podcast that highlights futsal leaders throughout the country. To Bulldogs great honor, we are their first guest on their inaugural futsalcast. A mighty shout-out to Grant Cagann and Matti Dwyer for leading the charge in Oregon and beyond.

A page at a time, futsal as soccer’s muse…

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We make comparisons and analogies where we have experience. So I often see futsal through the filters of writing and basketball. Both are life long passions. From watching my high school coach diagram plays to taking screen writing classes as an adult, it all applies in some practical way to futsal. Apparently learning is learning no matter the discipline.

Writing leads to reading. Learning to read involves decoding: knowledge of letter sounds, blending, and chunking. This is the equivalent of futsal technique. Once fluency is achieved, the brain no longer spends precious energy on decoding and instead focuses on comprehension. This deeper understanding of setting, character, and plot are the tactics. And finally an advanced reader will recognize when an accomplished author goes on a full field Messi slalom with the use of imagery, metaphors and witty dialogue.

So how do we teach creativity?

In recent years, street ball and futsal have been touted as a tools for creativity on the soccer side. Futsal in many ways is simply an organized version of street ball. The thinking goes that if Neymar, Ronaldinho and countless other Brazilians started in futsal then there must be some connection to dribbling genius. Spectacular ball manipulation, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.

In my mind futsal fosters two types of creativity and both can be developed in two different ways:

  • Individual creativity (dribbling, crafty assists, unique finishing)
  • Team creativity (movement, intricate combos)

How does futsal guide this creativity?

  • Unstructured play (school/community courts)
  • Structured play (knowledgable futsal programs)

Unstructured play, aka, street ball, doesn’t need much elaboration. The unsupervised touches you get in soccer, basketball or any sport will lead to innovation as players are free to experiment away from adult guidance and criticism. Simple enough. Now the tricky part: facilities in convenient locations. Every day thousands of Brazilians and Spaniards play futsal at school during recess and PE. When this is the case in the US, America’s version of Neymar will be born. Currently in the Bay Area there are a number of initiatives to build futsal courts. Converting underused community tennis and basketball courts is a good start, but constructing these courts on school grounds is even more powerful. If you build it they will come. Or in this scenario, they’re already there.

Structured play and creativity are opposite ideas for many. But think about the glory days of FCB. Much of the tiki-taka (sorry Pep, I know you hate the label) brillance came through Guardiola’s insistence on positioning and movement. FCB produced a level of combination play and ball possession that will still be studied generations from now. Did it help that he had Xavi, Iniesta and Messi forming infinite triangles? Of course. But the good news for us lesser beings? All three grew up playing futsal.

And this leads us to futsal’s high level of tactics. Basketball like in its frequent set pieces and patterned movements, futsal’s structure actually allows for creativity. This will seem contradictory, but the more aware you are of your positioning as well as your teammates’, the more efficient you become in your daring. My most spontaneously, bold, and unique teams have always been the most tactically sound as well. So bookmark it: a school based court, a high functioning futsal program, and an occasional ticket to watch Steph launch from Fremont. Follow your muse.

 
 

 

Futsal’s calm inside the Matrix…

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“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” – Morpheus

Over the years, I’ve had countless parents approach me at soccer games and express how calm our futsal players look on the field. What exactly does calm mean, and why is it used to describe futsal trained players again and again? In The Matrix only a special few were able to decipher the digital code. They saw things others did not. Do futsal players interpret the movements and angles of a soccer field differently as well?

At first glance, calm is used to convey the superior technique that comes from manipulating a round ball on a hard surface. Receiving, dribbling and passing on a hard, flat surface is significantly more difficult than controlling a ball on grass or turf. It’s a matter of physics. Grass and turf offer resistance and the ball slows. If you can control a ball on the trinity of wood, plastic or blacktop, you can boss it on any surface. Master your greatest challenge and the rest is easy. Once Neo knew he could take down Agent Smith, all others were dominoes yet to fall.

Besides the obvious technical benefits, the observant coach or parent often notices the quality decision making. With its time and space limitations, futsal places enormous cognitive demands on players. They must also make quicker decisions due to defenders in constant proximity. When these same players are put inside the acreage of a soccer field, they literally seem to be playing at a slower RPM. They are able to read and analyze the game quicker than their non-futsal playing teammates and opponents. Once Neo truly understands the code all movement idles as he fends off multiple flailing agents with just one arm. Faster, stronger and bigger are great adjectives, yet calmer is the one coated in red.

What if every USSDA played this way?

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Combining passes on a soccer field is tough, but at least in the youth game at u12 there’s nearly an acre of space to do it within. Pinging passes on a futsal court is considerably trickier due to the reduced space and the tight marking it allows. And to compound things, the ball rolls at pace with no grass to offer resistance. For these reasons, except for a few clubs, youth futsal games in the U.S. are often choppy and involve frequent 50/50 challenges. Teams are lucky to connect a couple passes let alone 3 or more. But if a team could link up 3 or more meaningful passes, what might it look like? And to up the ante, could it be done against first rate competition? Against players that are used to hoisting silverware everywhere they go? Such a scenario came into play recently at USFF’s National Championship Final in San Jose, CA at the u11 age group. Ballistic United USSDA, implementing FC Barcelona’s futsal curriculum, played the Futsal Kingz; a team comprised of top players from not one, but two excellent USSDA soccer programs: De Anza Force and San Jose Earthquakes. On top of that, a few of the Quakes players are of Bay Area Barcelona fame. A team and program that has dominated the NorCal State Soccer Cup in recent years. So there it is, the table is set; pull up a chair and take a look at what organized futsal looks like against a quality opponent. Then ask yourself, is this a one-off, or can every American soccer player benefit from the insights and creativity that come from learning futsal in a purposeful way?

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