What began as a good chance for one Montgomery County-based boys soccer club team to continue sharpening its skills during the cold winter months has turned out to be quite the opportunistic endeavor. Five years after coach Jose Franco introduced a group of his Pachuca FC USA River Plate 99 squad to the growing sport of futsal — soccer on a hard court, many times indoors — the team qualified for the first-ever World Futsal Championships by winning its second straight Northeast Regional title earlier this year.
The international competition, which will reportedly feature 64 youth and adult teams representing Europe, Asia and North, Central and South America, is scheduled to be held Thursday through Sunday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
“The opportunity to compete in a world championship is really exciting,” rising Watkins Mill High School sophomore Daniel Juresic said. “It’s also kind of nerve-wracking. But we will find out what kind of high level is out there.”
Futsal is five-a-side soccer that is played on a hard surface comparable in size to a basketball court and can be played both indoors and out. The smaller ball has 30 percent less bounce than a soccer ball, according to the U.S. Futsal website, which lends itself to the development of individual foot skills, Franco said.
The whole game in general, which is much faster paced than soccer, is considered worldwide as a tremendous developmental tool for soccer. According to USA Futsal, there is 600 percent ball contact in futsal than soccer and three times more goals — a shot is taken every 43 seconds and a goal is scored every six minutes, on average.
There is no offside rule in futsal — an offensive player is ruled offside in soccer if there are less than two players between him or her and the goal at the time the ball is played — nor are shoulder charges or sliding tackles allowed. The less physical environment allows for more individual skill work.
“To get out of a situation in a small space, you have to be very skillful and think quick,” Franco said. “Once they get back on the outdoor pitch, it’s so much bigger and they have more time. [Futsal] makes us think faster and react quicker, it helps our soccer skills.”
While U.S. Futsal, the sport’s governing body in this country, was founded in 1981, the sport is only more recently gaining popularity in the United States. But futsal itself dates back to 1930 in Uruguay and has long been especially popular in countries in South America and southern Europe, according to FIFA.com. And many of the world’s most recognizable soccer stars — Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Pele, among others — emerged from the futsal courts. Many European club teams, like FC Barcelona, have futsal programs — Barcelona is slated to compete in Orlando this week. According to U.S. Futsal’s website, U.S. Soccer has made a major push for its Development Academy clubs to incorporate futsal, especially among the younger age groups.
“[Futsal] is good for working on ball control,” Juresic said. “The ball is smaller so it makes it easier [to use foot skills] and [in futsal] there is also a lot more movement off the ball.”
Pachuca FC’s eight-person squad — Juresic, goalkeeper Jonathan Cruz (Don Bosco Cristo Rey), Andy Alvarado (Watkins Mill), Oscar Iraheta (Watkins Mill), Gianfranco Castillon (Watkins Mill), Antonio Franco (Albert Einstein), Jordan Patrick (Richard Montgomery) and Steven Ibarra (Damascus) — is a possession-oriented group, Franco said. Players step into somewhat different positions in futsal, though most of them are natural central midfielders which enables them to do a bit of everything. And Franco said their strengths complement each other nicely on the indoor pitch.
“This is going to be a great learning opportunity,” Franco said. “Even when we’ve played teams from California, their style of play is different. I can’t imagine how it’s going to be with international competition. I look forward to tough competition and to see different styles of play and tactics. There’s so much more to learn.”