Ballistic United Futsal Club

A bit of Brazil in NorCal…

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Over the years, I’ve heard numerous coaches say some version of “If you want to dribble like Pelé, you need to practice more on your own.” Ronaldinho and Neymar find their way into that sentence as well. Coaches and players in the US have been fascinated by Brazilians’ ability to manipulate the ball for decades now. Brazilian soccer is synonymous with creativity and daring, or ginga. And yet, although Brazil is served up at the ultimate example of soccer, it’s rare for a US coach to travel to South America. My own club colleagues make regular visits to England, Spain and Holland for coaching education, but Brazil never comes up.

Due to this lack of familiarity with the southern hemisphere, one of the great segredos of Brazilian soccer has mostly stayed just that: a secret. At the heart of many of Brazil’s most renowned professional clubs like Santos, Corinthians, Vasco de Gama, Flamengo and Palmeiras, are youth futsal programs meant to develop and nurture future soccer stars. Until u11, players in these clubs don’t set foot on a soccer field. It’s all futsal. Currently in the US there are a few youth clubs sprinkling in weekly futsal training to supplement the soccer curriculum. At some point, clubs will follow the Brazilian model and implement futsal exclusively at the younger ages. Ballistic United may be one of the first.

This year, one of our u8 academy’s two weekly trainings is futsal. The kids love it and the parents have noted how quickly their skills are developing. Next year’s u8 group may train only at futsal in the Spring. A bag of balls, a well lit gym, and a group of 7-year-olds… let the ginga begin.

US soccer, copycats needed

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In the 1980’s Bill Walsh famously devised the West Coast offense. Through short, high percentage passes, the 49ers maintained possession, marched down the field, and ate time off the clock. In true copycat form within a decade most NFL teams employed a similar style. More recently the Golden State Warriors’ motion offense with its reliance on 3-pointers has revolutionized the NBA. Steve Kerr’s crew has won more games in a four year stretch than any other in league history. Not surprisingly teams are now playing faster and shooting the 3-ball like never before. And perhaps the most borrowed model of all is that of the A’s Billy Beane. His Moneyball analytical approach has been copied the world over as teams in various sports now employ data analysts. If you want to be the best, you steal their ideas and make them your own. This takes us back to fútbol.

In world soccer, the most gifted dribblers and technical players are more often than not Brazilian. The list is very long: Pele, Garrincha, Rivellino, Zico, Socrates, Romario, Bebeto, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Neymar. Real Madrid’s recent 54 million euro signing of Santos’ 17-year-old Rodrygo is the latest example. What can we emulate to produce similar players? Beach soccer, Samba lessons, Capoeira classes? All worth while no doubt, but the real answer is futsal.

Most of Brazil’s major clubs don’t bother with soccer at the youngest ages. Yes, you heard that right. Flamengo, Vasco de Gama, Corinthians, Santos, and Palmeiras, are just a few of the clubs that don’t believe soccer develops their players adequately. Until u11 all their youth train only at futsal. The top players are then slowly transitioned into soccer. Most continue training at futsal until they are u14s. Call me crazy, but apparently this system of development has worked out okay.

So is there even one US soccer club that’s imitated this approach? Nope, not one. Most American coaches aren’t even aware the Brazilians train this way. Most of our coaching curriculum is European based. Here in Northern California, the Spanish, Italians, and Dutch return year after year to impart their knowledge. They do a great job. However, if I were to start a club from scratch and wanted to replicate one country’s success, it would be Brazil. The secret is slowly spilling out… some of world’s top coaches don’t coach soccer. They coach futsal and a line can be directly drawn between their genius and that of every Brazilian superstar that’s hoisted a World Cup trophy.

USFF 2018 National – 4 take aways

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Rotations, rotations, rotations

The American game is now evolving rapidly. Since the Regional event in March, the increase in clubs implementing three and four player rotations is head spinning. This is the clearest sign yet of Spain’s influence. In recent years numerous Spanish coaches including Andreu Plaza, Xavi Closas, and Andres Sanz among others have provided clinics and camps at numerous West Coast clubs. Rose City, Futsal 415, and Bulldogs used to be the outliers, but as of this tournament, rotations are now part of the main stream. None of the rotations are overly complex as training time for US based clubs is still heavily impacted by the outdoor schedule. That said, it was impressive to see how many new teams implemented rotations to unbalance opponents.

Might makes right

No matter the improvement in overall tactics, there were still teams hoisting silverware based on strong, fast players playing at a high tempo. Booting the ball long in the hopes a strong Pivo outmuscling an opponent or keepers heaving the ball randomly forward were all too common. In this style of play the game becomes one more of chance than purpose. It’s often a winning strategy, but the reality is these players are being cheated out of a playing education as the decision making and skill that comes from building from the back is ignored.

The death of dribbling

The stereotypes of Spanish and Brazilian futsal go like this: the Spanish pass into oblivion and are tactical geniuses. The Brazilians are masters of the Ginga arts and can dribble past opponents while handcuffed and blind folded, and they don’t overly care for tactics. Exaggerations for sure, and yet, there’s a small amount of truth found in each. Spain’s pro league, LNFS, is loaded with exceptionally talented and imaginative players from Brazil. FC Barcelona has no fewer than 7 on their current roster. And yet with the exception of the most recent World Cup, Spain has consistently met Brazil in the finals with teams comprised of lesser players, at least on paper. Yet Spain’s tactics often leveled this difference and at times gave them an advantage over the Brazilians. But one was always left with the curiosity, why were the Spanish players not as creative and dynamic as the Brazilians especially in 1v1 duels? At a pre-tournament clinic, FC Barcelona’s head coach, Andreu Plaza, alluded to this. The consensus among Spain’s top coaches is that the over emphasis on ball possession by way of multiple passes and movement has strangled the dribbling ambition of its players. Plaza’s candid assessment was in complete character with the humbleness I’ve witnessed from many of Spain’s top coaches. These intelligent, knowledgable men and women have a culture of self reflection and assessment that allows for growth and change.


This was the most experienced and knowledgable group of referees in this tournament’s history. For the first time I can remember, the spacing on kick-ins and corners was enforced consistently. Yellow cards for improper subbing were common and games in general were called very tightly. My only mild complaint is not all referees were consistently raising their hand to count down four seconds digit by digit on kick-ins, corners, and goal clearances. But overall a solid showing.

Winning Futsal II – Basics of the 3-1


With the knowledge a coach picks up over the years, it’s easy to become possessive and not want to share. Competitive sports by their nature involve winning, so why not keep one’s “secrets” to oneself? But for most of us, there’s a profound desire to see quality futsal played throughout the US. And if you dig a little deeper, most futsal coaches hold the sincere belief that Uncle Sam’s path to hoisting a World Cup trophy runs through futsal. To that end, as a futsal community, we need to continually increase the knowledge base of the sport. This book is pebble in that pond.

Bulldogs alum starring @ Quakes

Tomo Allen_websize

Our original u8 group of Bulldogs “pups” included a talented, younger player that raised eyebrows even as a 6-year-old. His ability to manipulate the ball in tight spaces and come up with creative solutions was evident from the start. Predicting the future of a player this young seemed absurd, but the thought was there: this kid could be special. His parents were quick to note his rapid development through futsal. To their credit they made sure he trained at futsal as often as possible. He is still very young, but his dribbling and decision making are unique by American standards. With any luck others will be inspired by his blue print for success and play futsal as often as possible while younger. Congrats on your early success Tomo. Bulldogs and the futsal community are rooting for you.

Read more about Tomo on the Earthquakes Academy blog.

USFF NW Regional, 4 take aways

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1 Grateful for the March Madness

Quality futsal tournaments are far and few between. So USFF’s Regional and National events every March and July are important markers on the west coast. The community gathers, swaps stories, and collectively gauges the progress or lack thereof of our young sport. For 35+ years USFF has provided a platform for youth futsal. To this end, Alex Para, his daughters, and staff deserve a sincere nod of appreciation and thanks.

2 Quality of play continues to increase

In recent years, each age group has typically had two or three quality teams. For this tournament the numbers were now at four to five. Positioning, movement off-the-ball, and cohesive zone defenses abounded. The coaching knowledge base is clearly growing with teams from Portland leading the charge. PCUFC and Rose City Futsal were especially good with their off-the-ball movements; a hallmark of well coached teams. Passing and consistently moving into space is not easy to teach. Many teams are still fairly static, and play is often station to station. Most soccer players that provide the pool for our futsal clubs simply aren’t used to the frequent, instant movements that higher level futsal requires. So when you see a team that does move automatically into space, you know their coach has done some heavy lifting.

3 Rose City Futsal, the revolution starts now

Up until this event, I’ve never been envious of any other club. However, after watching Rose City Futsal’s u9 girls and speaking to their talented coach, Sarah Plymale-Panza, that’s all changed. The club now has futsal only players at u9. These girls and boys train 3x per week at futsal year round. Soccer training isn’t apart of their routine. So huge props to RCF. Pick your color: olive, lime, jade, chartreuse. We all have reason to be green with envy. Rose City players will literally out-train the rest of our teams by hundreds of hours in the next few years. Congrats again to RCF’s ownership and Eduardo Araujo for a vision realized.

4 Referees – the zebra herd runs in different directions

I tend to be very forgiving of referees. There’s lots of blame and little glory and yet they’re essential for the sport. I’ve refereed hundreds of games myself and I know how easy it is to miss a call or two per game. That said, the refereeing was as poor as I’ve seen in the past decade. For every stellar referee like Ron Leedy or Albert Montalvo, there were multiple refs not aware of the pass back rule! The space restrictions for defenders on kick-in’s and corners was rarely enforced even when players requested it. There was also enormous confusion on whether players could head the ball or not. Some referees called heading infractions and awarded free kicks and others did not. By the second day of play all referees were informed players could head the ball regardless of age. For a tournament of this prestige and pricing, the lack of experienced, knowledgable referees was disappointing.


USSDA NorCal Futsal Showcase, 4 take aways

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1 That tournament vibe

There’s something about futsal events that create an intense, entertaining vibe every single time. The immediacy of the crowd, the volume of goals, and the creativity of play always generate an electric atmosphere. The NorCal Showcase was no exception. Well done USSDA.

The unlimited pass back rule must go 

The tweak in the rules to make the Showcase more soccer like does exactly that. However, when the keeper is used relentlessly as a safety valve, players no longer have the need to solve problems on their own. Much in the same way walls in indoor soccer are used to avoid trouble, the unlimited pass back rule takes tons of pressure off the court players. There’s no need to take your defender on 1v1 or pass with precision in an attempt to build out. Instead, just dump it endlessly to your keeper and turn the game into a constant 5v4 that slows the game to a crawl. Simply an awful rule that should be nixed. If not, let’s call the game mini soccer since it ceases to be futsal.

Tactics are largely non existent

I once asked a FC Barcelona coach if the 2-2 formation was used in Spain. He paused and struggled with the question for a moment before answering, “Perhaps the odd recreation club still plays it.” At the Showcase everyone played it with the exception of the 3-1 used by Ballistic United. USSDA should be congratulated on providing these annual events. Some futsal is better than no futsal. And sending scouts to observe the nation’s top talent is also commendable. However, US Soccer by not educating its DA coaches on even the most basic of tactics is leaving the fruit on the tree. Many DA coaches have never played futsal let alone coached it, so an effort to educate is essential. By next year every DA club should be playing the 3-1. US Soccer should take its winter futsal mandate seriously and teach the game. Otherwise it’s mostly window dressing.

4 Futsal’s filter catches all impurities

US Soccer is wise to scout these events. Futsal is a ruthless filter of ability. Within seconds you can assess if a player is able to manipulate a ball, make quality decisions under time and space constraints, and move off-the-ball. Raw athleticism never hurts, but futsal exposes those players that get by with size, strength, and speed in the outdoor game. There is nowhere to hide on a futsal court. You can either handle your business, or you get revealed immediately. At the NorCal event only a handful of players were advanced dribblers and decision makers. Perhaps less than 10% of the participants fell into this category. With meaningful, year round futsal training from a young age, there’s no reason this number doesn’t climb to 50% or more.

OYFA interviews Bulldogs, part 2…

FutsalCast Rob Bell Bulldogs Futsal Club Ballistic United

Oregon Youth Futsal Academy and Bulldogs talk shop in a podcast about transitioning to a 3-1 formation, pavement vs grass for development, and the challenges of introducing futsal into youth soccer. Many thanks to Grant and Matti for continuing to promote our sport in such a dedicated, passionate way.

Creating the American Neymar…

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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.

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