Bulldogs Futsal Club

Futsal & Pattern Recognition

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” – Mark Twain

If you spend countless hours doing something specific, you gain insights into it. On the surface, pretty duh, right? And yet, it’s uncommon for most to dive deep into an area and become an expert. It requires sustained effort, curiosity, and an ability to discern what works and what doesn’t. Over time complicated patterns often become easier to recognize. This plays out in futsal and countless other areas.

Many of the most successful investors have extensive reading libraries. From Charlie Munger to Marc Andreessen, these hedge fund managers and venture capitalists dive deep into the rabbit holes of history. Inflation, housing bubbles, and disruptive new technologies are nothing new. By studying each generation’s ebbs and flows, they place bets on where the future lies. And this is facilitated through the parsing of the patterns. What happened before, will happen again.

In modern soccer, it is often those players with a futsal and/or street background that excel most. Brazil’s entire youth soccer system is predicated on futsal being the best training option at the younger ages. What provides futsal players an edge is a relentless stream of decision making opportunities. And these are placed on steroids when time and space constraints are factored in. 3v2 and 3v1 numbers up situations occur frequently in futsal. But each and every one is uniquely different. Are the defenders back pedaling or challenging aggressively? Are the attacking wings high enough up the court? Is the goalie covering the near post? And on-an-on it goes… an infinite amount of variation on each and every attempt. Numbers up situations also appear with less frequency in soccer, but at a slower pace and with more space. So who’s likely to solve this moving puzzle more successfully? You got it, the kid who has seen the patterns thousands of times more.

To this end, the best coaches are often the ones that train the mind. The less successful ones train the feet. Endless hours of cone work, ball mastery, and juggling are fine at home or with a personal trainer. But higher level coaches earn their pay by developing a player’s ability to read, interpret, and solve in game situations. Patterns, like history, repeat over and over. One’s ability to recognize them is a huge advantage.

Orlando Revisited

United Futsal’s back-to-back National & World tournaments in July celebrated the sport’s return at the Rosen Centre & Shingle convention centers in Orlando. Over the course of five days, teams played ten games at four divisions: u9, u11, u13, u15. For the first time in 18 months, clubs from all over the US were united in a major event. On arrival day, smiles, high-fives, and hugs dotted the hotel lobbies. Futsal was back!

Style of play

The 2-2 is on its way out. This was the first US event I can remember where the majority of the teams played the 3-1. From Alianza Futsal in New York to Toque Futsal in Los Angeles, top clubs embraced the more dynamic aspects of the 3-1 that allow the pivo to act as a target with the wings crashing up court in support. The 3-1 also lends itself to more off-the-ball movement, so defenses are forced to read and react more frequently. Numerous coaches mentioned how the 2-2 can leave a team vulnerable to counter attacks as no central defender exists.

On the defensive side, top clubs often sparred mano-a-mano with high presses and aggressive, physical defending. The refereeing is now in line with international standards. For the last three decades the general thought in the US was that futsal didn’t involve contact and games were called accordingly. The international community missed the memo on the non aggression pact. Play abroad often resembles an MMA octagon. Here at home, the days of receiving a yellow for a hard challenge are officially over at least within United Futsal’s domain. In Orlando play became choppier with the additional contact and stringing together passes more of a challenge, but it was a relief to not have to sit players from soft yellow cards. And for the teams that advanced to the World Futsal Cup in Spain, the more rugged style of play should prove helpful.

One of United Futsal’s ripest carrots is the award for winning the Champions Cup Series National event. The champ of each division wins an all-expenses paid trip to the World Futsal Cup in Barcelona in December. This includes lodging, meals, and entry fees. Somewhere a mic just dropped. With this much on the line, the competition went next level. Players, coaches, and even referees all appeared uneasy. I got a first hand look at these nerves with our 06/07 team in the finals. This proud, experienced group turned very quiet before the last game. Not unexpected before a championship game, but this silence seemed louder than ever.

The 06 experiment continues

As many US futsal coaches know, it’s difficult to keep a core group together year-after-year. A team is often comprised of players from various soccer clubs and schedules inevitably conflict. There’s also the challenge of teaching tactics when you only coach a group 1x per week for much of the season. For this reason, few clubs attempt to teach the game at a higher level. Logistically it’s just tough. Often times it’s easier to recruit all-star groups to barnstorm from tourney to tourney. This is common, and it’s not the worse thing. Cold pizza is still pizza, and any futsal is better than no futsal. But as these 06’s prove, if you invest the time, US teams can play with ideas. Meaningful tactics can be learned. Attractive play can be had. The 06’s will be playing in Spain because of a five year apprenticeship. They respected the game. Wood fired pepperoni pies tastes so much better.

The Rise of Toque

Speaking of fire, Valdemar Mendez just burned down Rome, or this case, Orlando. The founder of Toque Futsal established his club as the tops in the nation. With multiple championships won on the boys and girls side, Val and staff flexed hard. And best yet, Toque plays with ideas. It doesn’t hurt that they’re the only CCS team in the LA basin, but even if they weren’t, the ambition and dedication of Val, Tyler and Louie would set them apart. Toque’s structure is unique. They combine elements of a traditional futsal club and a city recreation department. Offerings include motor skill development for 3-year-olds to advanced tournament training for 14-year-olds. This wide range of options starting at the younger ages has enabled the club to seamlessly funnel players into their top teams. It’s just brilliant.

United Futsal

Found a national federation. Check. Cement a partnership with FC Barcelona. Check. Create the top international tournaments: World Futsal Cup & World Championships. Check. Combine world class tourism and a futsal camp in Barcelona. Check. Start a National Training Camp for players and coaches. Check. Establish an ecosystem of top US clubs to compete with each other in a healthy, respectful way. Check. Check. Check.

United Futsal, like any trail blazing organization, has had an occasional hiccup over the years. But Rob Andrews and staff deserve a huge shoutout for establishing a framework for players, families, and coaches to learn the game and create some wonderful memories along the way. The sport in the US is in a healthy place. Thousands of players are now experiencing futsal in a meaningful way. United Futsal, take a bow.

Punting the 2-2

When I started a school futsal club in 2010, I knew next to nothing about the sport. I had played a version of it in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on summer vacations as a youth, but this helped little when it came to teaching the game. Coaching education resources like books and videos were essentially nonexistent. The only way for a newbie coach in California, thousands of miles away from the knowledge centers of Barcelona, São Paulo and Rio, to learn futsal was to experiment during trainings. Like most beginning coaches, I gravitated to the 2-2 formation.

The 2-2 is a natural fit especially at the younger ages. When the keeper has the ball in hand, his teammates form a 2-2 square that fills out half the court. It’s an easy visual and seems more than logical. No one ever questioned it, and I developed all sorts of ideas on passing patterns and rotations. I even wrote a book on it. All the while our club hoisted trophies. I was quite pleased with myself. But then came The Conversation.

In July of 2016, Xavi Closas, the current Barça B head coach, was in town directing USA Futsal’s Elite 96 camp. The night before the clinic began, I sat down with Xavi, Spanish international José “La Roca” Ruiz, and the FC Barcelona staff, over a giant pan of paella and a bottle of Tempranillo. In all my naive glory, I brought a copy of my book to show off. Everyone flipped through the pages while patiently nodding their heads. Looking back, I’m shocked no one bursted out in laughter. Xavi graciously commented on the movement of the players. I was feeling pretty good. But then I just had to ruin my own party and start The Conversation.

“Xavi, how many clubs play the 2-2 formation in Spain?” I’ll never forget The Pause that came before The Answer. Xavi looked pained, and an awkward silence spilled over the room. “Well, well, I don’t think any clubs play it. Maybe the odd recreational club still does.” The walls of my futsal world came tumbling down. I then tucked my book away and waited for the moment to pass. For the next half hour, I stuffed my face with paella and didn’t utter another word. Humiliating doesn’t begin to describe it. And yet, it was the most instructive moment of my coaching career.

From that point, I only trained the 3-1. The first two months were unbelievably frustrating as I had to rewire the players’ thinking and my own. A few months later, notebook in hand, I attended a coaching workshop in Barcelona led by Xavi. Futsal specific versions of rondo, numbers-up, tag, and small sided games filled the pages. Over time it became clear how superior the 3-1 and a curriculum dedicated to creating problem solvers, was. The fluidity of the play, the ease of rotations, the ability to attack the space along the sidelines, all became clearer. This didn’t mean we suddenly won every game. Far from it. But it did mean our players were processing the action at a higher level. They were learning to analyze and act while still having fun. As a coach, you can’t ask for much more.

In 2010, there were countless youth soccer articles and blog posts on how punting the ball and not building from the back was detrimental to the growth of the US player. In the Bay Area, most clubs still punted the ball. It was a proven, winning strategy. K to 9 often led to quick goals if your striker was bigger, faster, and stronger. A decade later, clubs that punt are the exception. Most teams especially at the MLS/DA level now attempt to work the ball out of the back. I suspect the 2-2, like the punt, will eventually go away. And the kids will be better for it.



Eduardo Araujo – Rose City Futsal and the Mighty 04’s

Like many in the American futsal community, I’ve long admired Rose City Futsal’s ambition, sportsmanship, and style of play. All reflections of their superb former director of coaching, Eduardo Araujo. His 2004’s are arguably the first US homegrown team to compete at an international level. It’s a team that I observed court side for years at Regional and National tournaments. I also had the great fortune of guest coaching many of these 04’s at La Masia versus FC Barcelona at the Top 12 Experience where I witnessed first hand the group’s amazing mental grit. It’s the first US team I can remember that played the 3-1 with ideas. Eduardo and the 04’s were truly trailblazers that should not soon be forgotten. We caught up with Eduardo in Australia where he now lives and works.

Eduardo, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and memories. Can you talk a little about what made your 2004’s so special?

So one of the big things I’d like to put out there is that it’s not my work with those kids. The work of a player or a team involves so many people. It would not be fair to take the credit for the development of the players. I think we all have input, and we help their development, but nobody is shaped by one person, and so I just want to make that clear. So many people, so many amazing humans that were connected with that group that really helped get them to what they achieved. If you really think about it, you include parents, you include other coaches, you include different clubs they played at, and other players they played with, the environment, all those different areas that get them to where they are. To where they were when you saw them and to where they are nowadays. And that will continue to happen on their path, but for us that was always a big thing. Keeping our feet on the ground, right? Taking the pride out of the way and making sure competing was part of the development, but never putting it ahead of developing human beings. That was always a philosophy that we tried to instill in families and players. If we developed a great player that’s not a great human being then we’ve failed in our work. If we developed a great human being, but failed to develop a futsal player, we still succeeded. That was also the philosophy that we tried to instill in our coaches. There were several people that came along in that group that helped, and I’ll name several of them throughout the conversation. I just want to make it clear that I’m happy to answer the questions. I’m happy to share what happened from my point of view, but of course there were so many different people involved in their development and they may share different points of view. I’m happy to share as much as I can as it’s always fun to bring up some good memories! 

So that group specifically, it was at the end of 2010 that I got to meet most of those kids. So basically they were 6-year-olds if you really think about it, 6-7 year-olds. They were playing for a club in Portland called Eastside Timbers nowadays. They used to be called Eastside United. At that point I had just got to Portland. They were the first group of kids that I started getting involved with in the city. Luckily at that time there was another guy in the club named Steve Storley and another guy named Jeff Fletcher pushing very hard at the development of players in Portland to focus more on futsal and bringing technical work to the younger ages. So Steve actually spoke to an old coach of mine, they knew each other, and when I moved to Portland we got in touch. My old coach mentioned that Steve really believed in futsal, and that it would be nice for me to get connected with him. So I got there and Eastside Timbers were just opening a facility with a couple futsal courts, so it was perfect timing. I’ve always been involved in futsal, it has always been in my life. Seeing that just align with the club’s goal, seeing it align with what I could do for the sport felt really good. With that, came this group, so we started seeing them playing in recreational games in the city and started inviting a player here and there to come. But basically we were mainly focused on futsal, so once they were 6 and 7-years-old, we were like playing futsal and investing in them. And just to make a link here, you’ll ask a different question later on, about how do we get them to be so tactical? So when they’re 6-year-olds, we didn’t emphasize much tactics at all at that time. So our focus was futsal, making it fun, teaching life lessons, making them be a group, making them bond, and developing technical skills. That was basically what we were trying to do, making them as multifunctional as they could be. So that was always our goal, to get them to enjoy the game and make them the best technical players they could be. And that only happens if they enjoy it, otherwise they would not like it and not want to be around the ball, right? So I remember those players as mostly kids that would go home and just be with a ball all day, and never miss a training session, always there. So it was just a good group of kids that I was pretty lucky to be involved with. The group of 04’s that you saw later on through Rose City are not necessarily all those kids that started at 6-7 years old in the club that I was coaching at the time, but some of them were, the majority of the group were in it, and then different pieces came along and joined that group as well. But basically, again, that sort of start that we got with that group, it was developing the technical skills, the heart for it, the love for it, the dynamic aspects of it, so we never really focused on the tactics at that age. 

So back in 2010, and through those years, we competed against another really good team in town that was called PCU, and they had several good players that were working really hard as well. These same players would wind up later on joining our group at Rose City, so our group became kind of a mix of these two clubs to some extent. The coaches of the PCU team also believed in futsal. So that was a shift in mentality in the game at that young age happening in Portland in general. And that age got to be the most affected by it. 

Once you became director who took over the coaching of the team?

I had that group for several years and eventually I got hired as the director of coaching for Rose City Futsal. With that we had an interesting dynamic at Rose City, where players were still playing for their clubs and they would come to us and train futsal in addition to their club practice. And at that time that’s when a lot of the players from Eastside Timbers came over and so did the PCU kids and so did one other from a different club, and that group really started taking shape as you saw. They were competing. There was another very important component of their development of the group once they got together at Rose City. I had the role of director of coaching, so I wasn’t necessarily their head coach. I was overseeing the work of the head coaches, involved in their training sessions and also involved in the different aspects of running a club. But certainly one big piece of the group was a guy named Nicholas Silvestri. Coach Nico is just an exceptional human being. Very caring and really loved the kids. Very high level player, who grew up playing the game in Italy. Loves the game and is a character. He influenced that group quite a bit as well. Nico came in with a very broad idea of the game, like lots of different tactical aspects and components that could be added to their group as well. Which at that point was a good blend when we got some of my philosophy and my understanding of the game, and we got this mix with this Italian guy coming in. I have this South American way of seeing and playing the game which is in fact more European structured, and we have this guy from Italy that comes with a different sort of perspective which was very South American influenced…very weird how it happens, but it’s true! We have a lot in common, but we also have different things. I think our minds got together really well, and we were able to piece together something really good for those kids to develop through. So that was a key point right there for that group to step towards what you saw, to what they were capable of doing. But again, those kids never gave up the game of futsal. They were very passionate about what we developed when they were 6-year-old. They continued to carry on through their whole lives, and they’re still carrying on. They are players that love the game. They are players that are getting to the end of their high school years and it’s been quite amazing to see where they all are starting to head in their path, soccer or futsal. 

What part did travel play in the group’s growth?

Through Rose City we started being able to travel and those families were really committed to having their kids really experience the game. When you asked about mental toughness, there was an aspect of it when they were young. Believe or not that group was not the strongest mentally speaking. They were to some extent at times very fragile. It’s like a beautiful glass that you shape and shape and shape, but it could break! (laughter) We weren’t super tough on them when they were young, we kind of let them be, we let them express themselves. Later on when they were ready to be pushed a little bit more and they understood the needs of the game to evolve to the next path, then it was time to actually start pushing them a little bit harder on their emotions, not on the game itself, but on their emotions to see how much they could handle in that aspect of it. If you do that when a kid is really young and you push them in an emotional sense and that kid can’t hold on, you just might break that glass, right? That glass is not fully made yet. It’s just one very thin layer. So once all those layers are kind of in place is the time to actually push them a little bit on the emotional side as well. Again, when they started traveling and started getting tournament experiences, they got their little bums kicked, (laughter), then they came back and they suffered and they cried, and they challenged again. So I think that was the dynamic in the evolution of mental toughness. I don’t think there is a secret to it or that there is only one way of doing it. I am very pleased that they showed that to you when you had a chance to coach them in Barcelona. And I’m very pleased that they respected and honored the game, and competed at their very best at all times in all different aspects of development, but again that mental toughness comes with time and experiences and through putting themselves in many different situations, so therefore there’s not like a secret. They go into a game now, and they’re not worried about it anymore, right? It’s not like their first time. The first time you can get very nervous, but once you’ve done it so many time, you may still get a little nervous but it goes away quicker and quicker. Although you still respect your emotions, you start to lose the fear and you become a little bit more mentally tough. 

When you look at that group, the amazing thing is that we were able to stick with a development process from a young age all the way until an older one. We wanted to win games. That’s part of being a competitor, but we never put that ahead of developing the group. So we’ve been to Nationals and Orlando for the World Futsal Championships, and to many different places, and we haven’t always won the tournaments, and we sometimes got our butts kicked, too. (laughter) And that was part of their development. Every time that happened they got a little bit better and they would work on some aspect that they were missing, and they would sharpen up a little bit here and there, but we also stuck to the idea of developing the player, developing the human being. On the player side of things we always stuck to the idea of not skipping steps on the ladder. If you want to go to the top, you have to climb the ladder one step at a time, right? And they did. They’d been doing that through the years. From the technical aspect of the game to the physical, emotional, and tactical. All those different layers of it were built up, and made their tool box more resourceful all the time. Always adding tools to the toolbox. I think through the years as we look at it now, we can see how that really impacted their overall development to the point it was really difficult for any player to join that group. It was really, really hard. We tried to add other players, but they just hadn’t been exposed, they hadn’t been through the same sort of pathway of development. It was hard to add a piece. And if we did, it took a lot of work to get the new player to the same level of the group. 

What was the focus when the group was younger?

I’m a strong believer, Rob, that to develop teams, you must start with the individual, right? You must start with the basics. You must start with developing a technical foundation. A lot of times in the US they want the kids to play like FC Barcelona, the professional team, when they’re 10-years-old. They can’t do that. That’s not physically, mentally, or technically possible. They just can’t do that. So when we really put the player development ahead of everything else, in a step-by-step way, regardless of what the outside world is going to think, eventually they’re going to get there. If you have kids that have amazing quality, super humans in the sense of understanding concepts and applying concepts, you might be able to teach some aspects earlier. But that’s not the case all the time. So you have to use the steps that are available. You start developing those players from step one, step two, step three, and always with the technical component that comes first. Through the years I’ve gotten a chance to talk to many coaches, many amazing coaches from around the world, and it’s the same thing. Ultimately, the team, at the professional level, that can win is the team that has one or multiple players that can make a difference, right? No matter how tactical you are, how organized you are, when you have one player that can make a big difference, that team has an increased chance of winning the game at the professional level. So our focus, again, for an early age was always to make them as technical and as broad as they could be. So they could solve many different situations on the spot. That way their game got quicker. If you have to think about a solution every time you receive the ball, you’re going to be in a spot that’s going to take you a bit longer, and there’s studies on that. If you become a little bit more instinctive playing, movement of your body, game movements, elements patterns, etc, you react quicker to the game. If you’ve been exposed to a number of situations, you have a better chance of problem solving on the fly which is what the game is all about. You can make all the plans you want in the world, but when the ball rolls, so much of it is unpredictable. You can train, you implement the tactics, you can put it in place, but ultimately, the ball may hit a little bump and it changes the whole game, right? (laugher) So players need to be able to adapt on the fly. So when you really think of this from a young age and give them as many experiences as possible. And I’m not being restrictive to futsal here. I’m a futsaler and a believer in futsal and in the development of players, but I don’t think that restriction is a good thing. If you think about the most technical and gifted players in the world, it’s not because they just played futsal. They played futsal and it’s a big influence on their life and really matters, but they were also playing on the streets and they also played soccer and they also played at home with a ball made of socks or maybe with a ball as big as a basketball. They’re playing with friends younger and older, they’re getting exposed to as many environments as possible. So their brain develops to a point where they can adapt on the fly to any circumstance. So we’ve done a lot of those things. Playing on the parking lot to playing with bigger and smaller balls, tennis balls, playing in the mud, playing in the grass, playing on the dirt, playing on different games that aren’t necessarily with the ball on their foot. Or it could be with their hands or anything to expose them to different situations. So that’s a little bit of what goes into player development in my understanding, in my philosophy. It’s like if you just get so stuck to one concept then you might miss all those other things going right by you that could make you a better player or a better human being, ultimately. It’s important to keep the vision broad and welcome things, accept things, review and work those things. Talk about it. Not just with that group, but with most groups we coach, we always made sure there was a debrief at the end of every practice. There was always a welcome at the beginning of practice, a mention of the concepts we were going to work through, the practice itself and then at the end we always had a debrief to review what happened during the practice and during games and seasons. And not only with the players, but also with the coaches as well. So at Rose City, we’d get all the coaches and debrief and talk about our session. What went well? What didn’t go well? Is there anything we need to change or adapt? Is there anything happening to a player who needs help? Is the player having family issues? Is the player having break downs? What is it? How can we solve it? This line of communication being open I think was crucial for the development of that group. That group definitely stood out, but that’s the work we’d done with all the groups. And you see amazing kids in many different age groups at Rose City. The kids went through this sort of development, you can really see how they developed their path. You can see those layers ingrained on them. Try to be as open as you can be, try to welcome feedback, try to listen, instill work ethics, do your best, come to practice on time, and leave on time, well, some of them would stay forever like gym rats. (laughter), respect their parents, respect their coaches, respect the opponents. Be an ambassador of the game. Any time we’d travel we’d talk about that. You’re going to San Francisco, you’re not going there to just play the game. You’re going there to represent your city, your club, your country. We’d travel abroad, so your work ethic must be in line with that. You need to treat others fair. You need to treat the opponent, the referees, the other parents, their fans with the most respect that you can at all times. So those are all philosophies we really instilled in the club. I think it helped them, too, to be mentally tough. So with that aspect of being an ambassador there’s a higher responsibility. You’re going to honor that when you know that you’re representing something bigger than yourself. You really can’t let yourself down. You’re going to give everything that you got on the line to represent well. 

The 2004’s made it to the finals of the World Futsal Cup. What was that experience like?

We played Barcelona twice. We played them in the group stage and the game ended up 7-3, but until the last minute it was like 4-3, and we were all over them, just pushing hard. Then we made a foul. They played quick while our players kind of looked around, kind of complaining. Barcelona played fast and scored a goal. After that they scored two goals in a matter of a few seconds, and we completely lost it. When you’re so focused at that point in the game, one little mistake can break down the momentum of the game. We ended up playing them in the final again and took second place. Barcelona is just a tough team to beat man. (laughter)

During that tournament, I remember all of our kids got sick. It was some sort of a flu that had them throwing up and feeling so bad. It started with one kid who we then isolated. He then recovered. Then another kid got sick, and then another. And as soon as one would get better another would get sick, so luckily not the whole team got sick at the same time. But basically for every game we had someone having a hard time. (laughter) They just kept passing to each other no matter what we tried. It didn’t get any adults, but it got the whole team. Crazy, eh? (laughter).

The trip was amazing. We went earlier, before Christmas and spent like three days training. We rented a gym. Families kind of went around and did their own thing with tours, but we made sure that kids needed to be at training for sessions. We had three sessions and two games before the tournament. Everyone had Christmas Eve and day off. So we all flew over earlier and got to acclimate and not be so jet lagged. I think that helped a lot. The kids went into the tournament more focused. They had already played a couple games against Spanish teams. But basically the funniest thing was the flu. It’s one of those things that’s unpredictable. You train all year long, you can prepare as much as you want, but something comes and knocks out a few players, and you’re like, what do we do? But the kids adapted well, and there were a lot of good learning lessons. During the Barça games, it was funny to see how intense the Barça fans were, singing and chanting. In the first game when we had them on their heels for a while the fans were just quiet. (laughter) And our fans were just like in a riot. It was super loud. So when you’re on the court, you can just feel it. Seeing the fans react was quite fun. It was a good experience overall.

Those kids are a good bunch! I miss them very much! Interesting enough is that we can get so focused on developing players, human beings, but when you really stop to notice the whole time I was developing myself to the version I am today. So I am very grateful for all the kids that came through my life and all the lessons they have taught me.

Xavi Closas of Barça B – Exclusive Interview

As the head coach of Barça B, Xavi Closas arguably holds the world’s top youth coaching position. He is charged with developing professionals for Barça, the pro team. International coaches and players routinely travel to Barcelona to participate in his iOX Futsal program. Many of our own players have learned from Xavi over the years, and his ability to inspire and educate is second to none.

Welcome back, Mister. Let’s get started.

What is your earliest memory of futsal and when did you decide it would become your vocation?

Well, I started playing at school. Here in Barcelona ​​and in most of the schools here in Spain, the playground is where futsal is played. And the majority of the schools have a team. Also in a nearby town where my parents have a house, I played on two or three teams. In the end, one of the teams took an interest in me and I started playing at the federal level, the most advanced. There I saw that it was my favorite sport. When I was little, I already realized that I loved it especially since you get so many touches on the ball. There was a time when I also played soccer. But it came down to that in soccer the ball is often airborne and you get very few touches, and futsal was the opposite. So I saw clearly that it was my sport; that it was what I wanted. I played other sports, but this is what I liked best. And I enjoyed it more and more until I got injured. Then I became a coach.

In recent years has youth futsal tactically evolved? And if so, how?

I think futsal has change quite a bit, mainly because the rules have changed, no? At least this is the case here in Spain. Before, the keeper wasn’t allowed to throw the ball into the opponent’s half. You had to toss it in your own. Also there’s the corner and sideline strategies. So the fact that the keeper’s role was enhanced with a greater freedom to distribute the ball led to more precision and more goals. Play became more spectacular.

The fact that the keeper previously was not permitted to throw the ball into the opponent’s half created the following situation. First off, the keeper had to provide a quality outlet pass. Two, the defenses pressured just a bit higher so the quality of the player on the ball needed to be better because you needed to build out of the back in a controlled way. Now, when you allow the keeper to throw the ball into the opponent’s half, this implies that you have a strong pivot, so you can focus on throwing long balls. So now you’ve stopped working on the individual skills of the player that builds from the back to instead ensure a safer outcome for the team. So now you’re more dependent on defending and less on attacking.

Who influenced you the most as a coach?

I started coaching after I tore my cruciate ligaments when playing with the team. So the club on my return, I had played a year, proposed the idea of being a coach. And the fact I had torn my ligaments, I had to resign myself to a place on the bench. More than having just one coaching influence, I really flourished when coming across the ideas of many coaches that had different ways of looking at the game. I’ve adopted their ideas, selecting individual aspects from each and then created my own identity as a coach.

But I haven’t had one main coaching influence. There’s been a few. Each dedicated to different ways of playing and able to explain the nuances of the game. So why not attempt to learn from many, no? From Javier Lozano to Miki Candelas and Marc Carmona. There’s been a lot of coaches that I’ve learned from. And they’ve all helped me develop and find my own coaching identity.

You and Oscar Alonso founded iOX Futsal. Can you talk a little about what your program offers coaches and teams?

iOX was born when I was working with Oscar. He was my top assistant and physical trainer for A.E. Bellsport. Well, there was an economic problem (at Bellsport) and there was a period of two years that I did not train any team. So at that time, we founded iOX Futsal and dedicated ourselves to various aspects of teaching futsal. One area is online work where we offer coaching advice. We help coaches with their model, their game ideas. We help them build the sessions and the planning of matches. It is like having a second coach.

There’s also online physical prep work, that is, the concept of having a physical trainer at the online level that adapts to the characteristics of your team and prepares the sessions for you. And then we also do online conferences. We decided to do a lot of things online because futsal is not football from an economic stand point. Many coaches work alone or do not have much of a staff, so it is good for them to have a person to consult, to debate, to ask, and to be more convinced.

Another facet of iOX is international. We will travel to any place in the world and hold sessions, from summer camps to personal training for clubs. Coaching education and group conferences as well. In that sense a complete package.

Coaches can also come here to Barcelona, and we teach them the iOX methodology, the way of working that we have at iOX. We teach them if they are coaches. We take them to see different clubs to see how they train. We do some training sessions on formations and take them to watch futsal games. If they bring a team, we schedule friendly matches so that they can see the level of play here in Barcelona. Training sessions are also available depending on what you want. So that’s a little of what we do at iOX.

Mister, always a pleasure hearing your thoughts. Stay safe and continued success to you, Oscar, and staff.

The Futsal Myth


In recent years, I’ve read numerous posts and articles that equate futsal with pick-up. It’s assumed the only thing the US needs to do is build thousands of courts nation wide and suddenly we’ll be cranking out a generation of Neymar’s and Messi’s. A massive build out would help without a doubt. And pick-up is highly recommended and an essential part of the personal history of many of the world’s most famous players from Cruyff to Ronaldinho. That being said, organized futsal is not pick-up. You cannot open the gym door, toss out a ball, and say you have a futsal program. This is pick-up. And pick-up is fun. And pick-up improves technique. And pick-up helps with creativity. But pick-up and futsal are not the same thing. This is a myth prevalent in places without a history of futsal.

Futsal, the way it’s utilized in most of Brazil’s top football academies including SC Corinthians, SE Palmeiras, São Paulo FC, and Santos FC, is anything but pick-up. It’s highly structured with professional coaches and top flight leagues and tournaments. Futsal is the foundation of their soccer programs. One of the main goals of these programs, if not the main one, is to create professional football players. The most recent example of a football star that started in a futsal program is Rodrygo Goes of Real Madrid. This €54 million transfer incubated within Santos FC’s futsal program. I assure you the curriculum did not involve rolling out a ball and having Rodrygo and buddies informally kick it around for 90 minutes. Having witnessed a u14 Santos FC futsal practice firsthand at the Urbano Caldeira, I found it highly organized, extremely intense, and brilliantly coached. Coach Índio barked out praise and criticism nonstop for the entire training. The only pick-up that took place was when a towel hit the floor.

So what might an equivalent program in the US look like? At some point, a MLS academy will follow the Brazilian model. And this domino will send the rest tumbling. At u8, u9, and u10, players will exclusively train at futsal. At u12 and u14 they will practice 40%-50% of the time at futsal and the rest in football. After that football will take over for the top players. At Santos FC the players at u12 and u14 train with futsal coaches on futsal days and football coaches on football ones. Similarly, here in the US, futsal training will need to be led by those knowledgeable in it.

If we build it, they will come. If we teach it, they will learn.



The Mikan Drill and Pivo Play


Many of the top basketball players in the world including Kyrie Irving refined their finishing touch through the Mikan Drill. The drill allows for a high number of repetitions within a limited amount of time. Basically a lot of technical bang for your buck. It’s considered a big man or center drill, but obviously it works well for guards and forwards, too. The center spot in futsal is roughly the equivalent of the pivo. Like a center, the pivo often plays with his/her back to goal. Out of necessity, a pivo must learn footwork that involves spins and feints while facing away from goal. Scoring is the most prized skill in futsal or any invasion based game, so the incentive is there.

In these shelter-in-place times of Covid-19, a thousand and one Instagram posts have surfaced emphasizing technical skills in isolation; juggling, dribbling, and passing against a wall routines abound. All wonderful for foot-eye coordination, but not especially game specific. One of my all time favorite lines comes from FC Barcelona’s Xavi Closas: I don’t dribble on cones because I beat the cone every time. That’s not to say there’s not a time and place for drills that isolate technique with little or no decision making. That being said, it’s important you pick these drills wisely to maximize your player’s time and efforts. So back to Mr. George Mikan.

When I train my own kids at home, our focus mostly revolves around various 1v1 exercises that combine technique and decision making. But when we do practice technique in isolation, it almost always involves finishing à la the Mikan Drill. There isn’t the same number of rapid repetitions as in basketball since futsal balls need to be recovered, but with a bag full of balls, a similar dynamic can be recreated. One of the goals of the Mikan is the development of the weak hand. Equal use of both hands is built into the drill. Few players are genuinely dangerous with their weaker foot. In my own club with over 300 competitive players, a top coach estimated only two were equally adept with both feet. And our club is considered a progressive one. The majority of the San Jose Earthquakes Homegrown signings are players that have spent time at Ballistic United. This speaks to the challenges of getting players to develop their weaker foot outside of training. So a futsal version of the Mikan is ideal for resolving this challenge.

At the recent World Futsal Cup just outside of Barcelona, every international team seemingly had a pivo well versed in the ways of hold-up play. Players were comfortable receiving, passing, and turning and firing all while starting with their back to goal. In the US at this point, you don’t often see this, yet. In part it’s due to the fact that many if not most clubs still use a 2-2 formation. This doesn’t allow for a central target player supported by runners that you find within the 3-1. Over time most teams will abandon the 2-2 and pivo play will flourish. And variations of Mikan like isolation drills will no doubt play a part.

Toni Farreras of ProFive Academy of Barcelona

Toni Farreras | Founder Toni grew up in the home town of our Profive Academy and is where he lives with his young family. Toni works as a local warehouse manager in a local company in Canet. As a player, Toni played his entire youth at the highest level of Futsal in Spain. Playing 4 years in the Second Division with Canet F.S. and representing Catalonia in the Catalan Team. As a coach, Toni currently coaches Canet F.S seniors and has been coaching youth and senior Futsal teams at the highest level in Spain. Coaching at Canet FS, Mataro, Les Corts and Pineda FS. Highlights are aplenty but winning the Catalonia Cup with his U12 team beating Barca, is still high on the list. Toni has level 2 national coach qualification.

Toni, I had the pleasure of learning from you a couple years ago at United Futsal’s Top 12 Experience. I remember very clearly your passion, knowledge, and friendliness. You were completely immersed in the game. It was quite inspirational. So I appreciate you taking time to sit down and reflect on your coaching career and your love of futsal.

What are your earliest futsal memories and why do you feel so passionate about the sport?

The truth is that I started playing futsal at the age of 9 while I was doing PE! Then I saw on TV that a lot of futsal matches were being played every week. Teams like Interviu Boomerang, El Pozo Murcia, and Caja Segovia were some of the first teams. From there I was hooked. I’ve never stopped watching futsal since.

So, you can imagine, I have lived futsal since I was very young. I have watched thousands of matches on TV, in arenas, at tournaments, leagues, but always futsal. I have actually never played soccer, ever!! The adrenalin you can feel in your veins when playing or watching this amazing sport is irreplaceable. Once you taste it, you are hooked and you will never want to change it for another sport!!

You have a well earned reputation as one of the top youth coaches in Spain. What are the qualities that allow you to connect so well with players and other coaches? What are your principles as a director and coach?

Probably the best people to answer these questions are the players I’ve coached during all those years. I started coaching at the age of 14, so I think starting early definitely helps. Since that time my thoughts have changed so much!! You never stop learning.

To really understand any subject, the best way in my opinion, is to teach it. What I really try to do is have the players understand the game!! This is my ultimate goal. The player should understand why, when, and how they do or should do things on the court. Before talking of systems, the player must understand the game and all the concepts that are in motion during it. Once he understands this, he will be able to play any system.

I am close to my players and speak a lot to them as individuals. I ask thousands of questions just trying to get them to think and develop. Never make them choose the easy options or the easy ways. That is when you develop robots on the court. Players that just do the same movements without reading the game while it’s played. Another aspect is to make sure everyone on the team speaks the same language. It is important that your ideas and words as a coach are understood by each player in the same way. Then you will be starting a team, but not before that! And lastly, transmit your passion as they will only be as passionate as we are.

Along with Antoine Stinissen and Miguel Puig Gonzales, you recently founded ProFive Academy. Can you speak a bit to the ideas behind your program and what you hope to accomplish?

We really wanted to do our bit for the game of futsal. It’s a fantastic game of skill, pace, passion, and joy. We want everyone to enjoy it as we believe everyone deserves it. We want to provide everyone an opportunity to experience the game at its best. To see how it should really be played, watched, taught, and experienced. In many countries futsal is still in its infancy, so we really want to give players, coaches, and teams the opportunity to come to Spain and for us to show why we are so passionate about this beautiful little game and pass on our knowledge.


Exclusive interview with Rob Andrews


It’s a real pleasure to have Rob Andrews, founder and president of United Futsal with us. Rob has overseen UF’s meteoric rise this past decade and continues to be the sport’s most influential figure stateside.

Rob, United Futsal recently launched the Champions Cup Series. Can you talk a bit about how it’s structured and what you hope this series of tournaments will provide?

The Champions Cup Series is a response to the feedback we’ve received over nine years of working the industry for how futsal should grow in the US. We found out in building it that people were looking for a pathway. A player that wants to enter knows that it’s easier through soccer, but what is the pathway for me as a futsal player? The first step to that is creating a consistent, high level national calendar for futsal every year that is in collaboration and not in conflict with the soccer clubs. And the second thing is to provide opportunities for the players that they can experience top level coaching from people all around the world, from the biggest and most experienced clubs. I’ve been amazed at the feedback from those people that are willing and wanting to help us. They’re ready to impart their knowledge on these players, these coaches, these referees, and clubs. They want to teach them how to build futsal. There’s so much interest in helping to grow the game globally. All we were missing was a pathway. And the Champions Cup Series will create that pathway.

In recent years the number of new futsal clubs across the US has increased dramatically. Some are more successful than others. What do these clubs have in common? What are they doing right? What can new clubs learn from them?

We have seen throughout the US and abroad in the international partnerships that we have there are three real ingredients that make the perfect recipe for a development first futsal club in the US. And first is the player pool. Having access to a talented player pool that’s interested in what’s going on and is ready to commit themselves to training. You can’t train players if you don’t have players. The second is a facility. Having a consistent and dedicated place. It doesn’t have to be the perfect size, it doesn’t have to be in the perfect condition, it doesn’t need to be a crystal palace type of Taj Mahal, but it does need to have consistent hours and goals. So when you get there training is on and kids can count on it. The consistency of training is crucial and the facility is vital to that. The third component that is a constant evolution is the coach, basically the know how. The coach or director above them has got to be relentless in pursuing education, pursuing knowledge. They have to be not prideful. They need to be humble with their knowledge. You’ll be amazed how many people around the world are willing and desire to help those people to build their clubs. It’s very different than a business in other industries where people are guarding their secrets and proprietary information. The futsal community is very open, and so long as the directors and coaches are interested and eager in learning, there’s ample information out there that United Futsal will be helping to provide to our Champions Cup Series clubs to help to grow the sport. So to wrap it up: a player pool, a consistent training environment and facility to go along with that, and a willingness and eagerness to learn is all you need. That is what makes a club successful versus one that is not.

Futsal in the US has seen explosive growth in the past decade and United Futsal has been right in the middle of it. From hosting the Intercontinental Cup in Greensboro in 2013 to establishing the world’s two most prestigious youth tournaments with the World Futsal Championships in Orlando and the World Futsal Cup in Barcelona, United Futsal has changed the competitive landscape. What are you most proud of? And what do the next 10 years hold for United Futsal and US futsal in general?

That’s probably the toughest question because we probably don’t pick our head up very often and look around at what we’ve accomplished and where we’ve gotten to because there’s still so much work to be done. I think what makes me most proud is when I think back on the almost ten years that we’ve been around, are the relationships that we’ve made through the process and seeing the growth and success of people that we have helped along the way and have collaborated with. I think futsal is too big for one person, for one group to be able to form or create, or develop and grow. So it’s going to take everybody working together. The modification of the name to United Futsal really fits with our character, trying to unite not only the US, but also the world. And I think working with the same groups over the last five, six, seven years, allows us to see their growth and the opportunities they’re fighting for. Seeing the development of the players from the US at the World Futsal Cup, at the World Futsal Championship where we’re seeing American teams win, beating Brazilian teams. And we’re seeing the level of Brazil still growing. Those are the type of things that really I would say make me proud as a person who got into this industry, but it also fits within our character. This motivates us to keep our head down and make the next ten years even better.

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