The game of futsal, a brand of soccer played indoors on hard court surfaces, is all the rage in places like South America and Europe.
Celebration’s Kyle and Mitchell Wilson got to experience it first-hand — as part of a whirlwind experience — at the Futsal World Cup in Argentina last month as part of the U.S. National Futsal Team.
To just say the Wilsons and the Americans went 1-3 in their pool play doesn’t do the trip justice. Kyle Wilson, who coaches and trains players in the tradition outdoor game in Celebration for most of the year, and the rest of the team, made up of players from around the country, didn’t even know they were going to Argentina until days before the first game.
“We played in a qualifier in Mexico in December, and we thought Canada got the last World Cup spot,” Wilson said. “Then days before the first game, we heard the Canadians had to back out, making us the alternate. We spent a day hearing back and forth until the national federation said, ‘You’re in,’ and that was 50 hours before the first game. The federation worked with us to get plane tickets, then we had a four-hour bus ride once we landed and we got to the arena an hour before the kickoff of our first game.”
The Americans won that day, 2-1 over Nepal, before falling to Catalonia, suffering a gut-wrenching defeat to France (4-3) and a final lost to Curacao.
“Catalonia was the best team I’d ever played against,” said Wilson, a futsal veteran. “Normally your shifts are four to five minutes long, but I played the entire second half against France. Had we won that, we would’ve played (host) Argentina in the next round. I got to be captain against Curacao in a placement game, which was a highlight, but there wasn’t the same energy against France and we lost 9-4.
“But it was the experience of my life. Everywhere we went we had an escort, and got marched into the games as a team with our flag.”
Understandably, the tournament was dominated by the South Americans, who view futsal nearly the same as traditional soccer. Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay took the top three spots.
“Down there and in places like France and Belgium they use futsal to supplement soccer,” Wilson said. “It’s the main source of development up to about age 13.”
Futsal isn’t hard to imagine for those who experience an Orlando SeaWolves game last season at the Silver Spurs Arena, but replace the carpeted playing surface with the hardwood of what you’d see in a basketball gym. Also, remove one player from the floor, as the game is five-on-five including the goalies. It leads to wide-open play but forces players to make split-second decisions with the ball.
“The game is so fast that there’s nowhere to hide,” Wilson said. “In the 11-on-11 game there’s so many people on the field one can get lost by the defense. Since there’s smaller teams and a smaller space to play we can run set plays.”
Locally, futsal is a tough sell for Florida and especially in and around Osceola County, where space to play is at a premium. Wilson said he plays mostly in Orlando or Davenport.
“It’s not big in Florida, where the weather during the playing season makes you want to be outdoors,” he said. “It’s bigger in northern places where you’re forced inside, like in Virginia, where I’m from. But it’s great for developing technique and game IQ.”