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.