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A few years ago, a group of 7-year-old boys in the (San Francisco) East Bay began an experiment of sorts: could sustained year round futsal training improve their soccer play? As of this week, seven of these twelve players had made the NorCal Region 3/4 PDP squad. Two younger players will likely be PDP players next year. Not a bad tally. The group has also hoisted Regional & National trophies. One player, guest playing for a local club, won the World Futsal Cup in Barcelona as the team’s top scorer. This player has an open invitation to join Villareal’s youth academy in Spain. Okay, a nice silverware haul, but do these boys stand out? Is their play distinct? Did training at a small basketball court at Muirwood Park make a difference?

The playing hallmarks of this group revolve around three areas: close ball control, rapid decision making, and movement off-the-ball. As a soccer team, this group of boys disbanded early on with players moving on to several local clubs. So it’s tricky to assess their soccer play collectively although a smaller, core group still exists. However, individually their play is easily identifiable.

The ball control, especially when playing on turf, is something to behold. In addition to the ability to manipulate the ball with precision, the confidence on the ball is what grabs your attention. No matter the defensive pressure, a certain composure is always present. More often than not, the sole of the foot comes into play. Whether shielding, raking, or changing direction with the ball, the sole is frequently used. The sole allows for a precision that the instep cannot replicate.

What makes a “good decision” is highly subjective, however, one area consistently provides a clear example: does the player shoot near post even when this post is covered, or does he pass far post where a sprinting teammate awaits a tap-in. The temptation to blast near post and go for glory is often too much to resist. The percentages drop dramatically with this option, but it is rarely criticized. Any shot is a good shot, right? The percentages go up dramatically with the pass to the far post. This requires a certain selflessness and team mentality. A willingness to sacrifice personal glory for the needs of the team. The Muirwood crew excels in this regard.

Off-the-ball movement or the lack thereof is often most evident after a player has passed the ball. More often than not a player will stand and admire his work. Due to futsal’s confined playing area, wall passes are essential to break down defenses. These quick 1-2 moments will often show up on the soccer field. The idea to pass and move is now automatic. This means the decision to move comes before the pass is made. This quick thinking and the resulting movement simply scream futsal.

Training at a little used basketball court next to the drone of the 680 freeway has produced some special results. Portable nets, a bag of balls, and a bunch of kids having fun, proved to be the only ingredients needed. A very simple recipe.

And the best part? Muirwood Parks dot our nation by the thousands.