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.