It seems peculiar, the sprawling game of soccer condensed to the confines of a basketball court, its players reduced to bumpers in a giant pinball machine. The game`s odd appearance is matched only by its unusual name: futsal.
Short for futbol sala - loosely translated as indoor soccer - futsal is played in soccer-crazed countries all over the world. It is hailed as a teaching tool that develops players` technical and tactical abilities by forcing them to maneuver and make decisions in confined space.
The funny game with the funny name is sanctioned by soccer`s global governing body, the Federation Internationale de Futbol Association. It is played professionally by men in Europe and South America, and has its own World Cup. Now, it has found a home in Cleveland.
Former professional player and Avon High boys coach Chris Dore, along with three partners, founded Cleveland Futsal League, a recreational league that plays at the Ohio Nets Sports Complex in Cleveland. The 29-year-old Dore, a Vermilion native who starred at Lorain Catholic and played for the Cleveland Force, said he recognized futsal`s potential to improve the level of play on local soccer fields and wanted to introduce the five-on-five game to players in the area.
"At the high school level all they play is kick the ball from one end of the field to the other," said Dore, who is also the league`s director. "Because we`re in Cleveland, we`re inside for four to five months out of the year. So why not have them working in an environment where we`re improving their skills and building good habits?"
Unlike traditional indoor or "wall" soccer, which is played during the winter by many local youth soccer organizations, futsal is a true miniaturized version of the outdoor game with a few minor modifications. Kick-ins replace throw-ins when the ball leaves the field of play, the goalkeepers are forced to reintroduce the ball into play within four seconds of making a save, and slide-tackling is prohibited. To accommodate the smaller playing surface, the net is reduced to 6 feet high and 10 feet wide and a special low-bounce ball is used to discourage high kicks or collisions caused by a player`s attempt to play the ball with his or her head.
Dore had no way of anticipating how much interest a futsal league would generate. He was shocked by its immediate popularity. In the league`s inaugural session, which began in November, more than 800 players signed up and were broken down into 79 teams, split into 17 divisions: separate boys and girls teams for under-9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16 and 18, along with an advanced open men`s team.
Dore said a second session, slated to begin in January, already has more than 1,000 members signed up and well more than 100 teams ready to go.
"It`s a league for anybody and everybody that wants to play," Dore said. "Our target market is kids that want to develop their skills."
One of the biggest differences between futsal and traditional outdoor soccer is the frenetic pace at which it`s played. Tyler Vanderhoof, a freshman forward at Elyria Catholic, points out that because futsal is played on an area the size of a basketball court, open space is at a premium.
"It`s way faster than outdoors," said Vanderhoof, 15, who played junior varsity soccer for the Panthers. "There`s less room out there and there`s only four players on the court to pass to. It forces you to create your own space."
Futsal uses a smaller ball than traditional soccer, one that is two-to-three ounces lighter and two-to-three inches smaller in overall circumference. More importantly, a futsal ball gets an estimated 40-percent less bounce than its standard counterpart.
The biggest difference though is futsal uses a ball that keeps the action on the ground - using the players` feet and demanding short, sharp passes.
"You have to make more solid hits on the ball," said Vanderhoof. "If you don`t hit it perfectly, your passes and kicks go all over the place."
Elyria Catholic soccer coach Mike Wisnor urged his players at the start of the offseason to enroll in futsal. In fact, he was one of the architects of the Elyria Catholic futbol club, which meets throughout the winter for futsal games at St. Jude.
"It`s a game that`s less forgiving than soccer and it keeps their skills sharp," Wisnor said. "It makes you react quickly, get a lot of touches on the ball and it forces you into a lot of one-on-one situations. That`s going to make a player better."
Dore said that his long-term goal is to establish year-round leagues that stretch throughout the summer. But his biggest hope is to see a genuine impact on the overall skills of the area`s youth.
"It was really a matter of how could I reach the biggest number of kids," said Dore. "I wanted to be a resource. This is an unbelievable game and it`s played all over the world. The United State is always the last to learn in these types of things with soccer. But it seemed like the right time to do it and it`s taken off like crazy."
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7135 or at email@example.com.
FUTSAL VS. TRADITIONAL SOCCER
Futsal uses a No. 4 ball with reduced bounce
Soccer uses a No. 5 ball
Futsal has five players on court per team
Soccer has 11 players on field per team
Futsal has unlimited substitutions
Soccer has three substitutions
Futsal uses the kick-in
Soccer uses the throw-in
Futsal uses a stopped clock
Soccer uses a running clock
Futsal has 20-minute halves
Soccer has 45-minute halves
Futsal has one timeout per team per half
Soccer has no timeouts
Futsal uses the goal clearance (goalkeeper throw)
Soccer uses the goal kick
Futsal doesn't allow shoulder charges or sliding tackles
Soccer allows charges and tackles
Futsal has no offside rules
Soccer has the Offside rule
Futsal has a five-foul limit
Soccer has unlimited fouling
In futsal, a corner kick is placed on the corner
In soccer, a corner kick is placed on the arc