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.