Volume 75, Number 35 | January 18 - 24, 200

Futsal players are getting their kicks during winter

>>Goalie Milagros Arana gets set for a blast in a Futsal, or indoor soccer, game. Because the game is played in a smaller space than regular soccer, the shots come fast and furious in Futsal.

By Judith Stiles

For all those New Yorkers who made an ardent pledge to get back in shape after the gluttonous holidays, forget about those boring torture machines in the gym, and don’t bother with endlessly jogging on a treadmill while watching inane television shows. Try something new, like playing Futsal, for an exhilarating workout that is so much fun the hours fly by unnoticed. Although Futsal may sound like foosball, that tabletop game in bars in which the wrists barely get a workout, it is an entirely different game, played on a gym floor with a ball. Typically there are five players on a side and it looks similar to a fast-paced game of soccer where the ball zooms around the court.

Futsal is a wildly popular international game derived from the Spanish or Portuguese words for soccer, “futbol” or “futebol,” patched together with the French or Spanish word for indoor, “salon” or “sala.” And just like Pilates hit New York with a big splash over a decade ago, playing Futsal this winter is all the rage for men and women who can’t hack the tedium of working out in a gym.

The original Futsal games date back to the 1930s in Uruguay when a coach named Juan Carlos Ceriani invented a very fast ball game similar to soccer, to be played indoors on a basketball-sized court. “I prefer Futsal because if you are not playing off the wall, the game is more about control of the ball and technique,” says Jaime Choy, founder of the Urban Soccer League.

On Sundays from dawn to midnight, men and women come out in droves to play Futsal on over 40 teams in the Urban Soccer League in games held at the Borough of Manhattan Community College on Chambers St. by the West Side Highway. The level of play ranges from beginners up to intermediate and advanced, and just about everyone is welcome. There are all-women and all-men divisions, as well as a lively co-ed division. “It sure beats speed dating,” says one ponytailed co-ed who insists on remaining anonymous. “Seriously, some of us hang out after our games to just watch the other divisions because it is a fun way to meet people from all over the world,” she adds.

Traditonally the game is played in two 20-minute halves, although at Urban Soccer League the halves are 25 minutes. Each team has four players on the court with a goalkeeper. The ball is smaller, a size 4 instead of a 5, and it is heavier for less bounce than is found in a regular soccer match. There is no offside rule, and there are no throw-ins. Instead, the ball is kicked in from the sideline, and the goalkeeper is not allowed to kick or punt when distributing the ball, but can throw the ball without stepping outside the goal box. Because the nets are smaller, it might seem like an easier game to defend. But don’t be fooled, because the ball zips across the smooth floor and it can be quickly rocketed into the net at close range.

In the 1960s Futsal became very popular throughout Latin America with Brazil leading the way. Pele, Bebeto, Zico and other world-famous Brazilian players honed their skills with the ball playing Futsal. The first international competition was won by Uruguay in 1965 and by 1989 the game was integrated into FIFA, the Federation Internationale de Football Association. Although no top world-class players are found at the Urban Soccer League, in the mens’ division the skill level is extremely high, showing off former Division 1 college stars, as well as Brazilians with very fancy footwork.

In New York City organized Futsal leagues are plentiful for adults, while the youth players tend to sporadically attend Futsal-like tournaments throughout the winter. Ironically, at the Urban Soccer League, the children of the Downtown United Soccer Club soccer moms are on the sidelines cheering for their mothers, who are on their way to a victorious season with two wins and no losses so far.

If Fustal seems intriguing and you want to give it a whirl, it is not too late to join a house team for free agents at the Urban Soccer League; visit Urbansoccer@ aol.com for more information. U.S.L. hosts games at B.M.C.C. and city fields throughout the year, and for those of you who cannot bear to play soccer indoors, well — brrrrr — you can bundle up and play soccer outdoors with the Metro Soccer League, the Uncoordinated Soccer League or the Affordable Soccer League. For more information just Google them and shiver!

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