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Are you ready for some Futsal (Alberta)

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Courtesy www.canada.com

Are you ready for some futsal?
There's a new game in town, and indoor soccer enthusiasts are loving it

Dan Carle
Freelance

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

EDMONTON - Futsal. It's an odd name for a game, and one you're not likely familiar with, but you or your kids may be screaming to play it soon enough. In short, there's a new game in town, a rage in the sports world, and Edmonton is ground zero in Alberta.

"In my opinion, futsal will at some point replace the indoor game as we know it because of the element of skill development and the lesser element of danger," says Barrie White of the Edmonton Interdistrict Youth Soccer Association.

The five-a-side game is played on hard indoor surfaces, similar sized to basketball courts, with no side walls in play and a heavier, less lively ball. The game has seized the soccer-playing public's fancy to the extent it is now played by some 25 million players worldwide.

"FIFA (international soccer's governing body) has recognized futsal as the only indoor sport," says Ross Ongaro, who coached the first Canadian men's futsal team to a surprise bronze medal at a December event in Anaheim.

Ongaro carries a large stick these days, banging the drum on behalf of the game that promotes skill development and is basically mini-soccer with no contact. "The nets are much smaller, there are no boards, the game is a small portion of the outdoor game ... with only 10 players on a field instead of 22."

White's Youth Soccer Association is the only group in Alberta currently offering futsal but he says he's received about 10 dozen calls from other sports groups and athletes looking for information.

"Last year, starting in November, we advertised just within our own program and we have 60 teams on the developmental aspect of futsal for the coming winter. Each team gets 10 games," said White.

"The game really promotes the use of skills. There are no boards, so the players keep the ball within the confines of the touchlines. We're finding the level of skill required is to a much higher degree than the indoor program," said White, a longtime local coach and administrator. He thinks by next year there could be as many as 100 teams playing locally.

In futsal, you can't be a goon.

"If you like to be rough and tough and be good in the air, this is not the game for you," Ongaro said.

"Any foul can be a red card and you're out of the game. When you accumulate fouls, like in basketball, you get a penalty shot," said Ongaro.

"So a dirty team will not survive in this game."

While futsal at the program level is new to Alberta and to a lesser degree Canada, the game itself has survived for some time. It began in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1930 when a man named Juan Carlos Ceriani devised a five-a-side version of what is more commonly known the world over as football.

In Europe there are professional leagues with athletes dedicated to futsal full time. The actual term futsal comes from the Spanish or Portuguese word for "soccer," futbol or futebol, and the French or Spanish word for "indoor," salon or sala.

From a practical perspective, locals here are confident futsal will really catch on in an effort to keep soccer legs moving, rather than breaking, out there.

"We've had 14 broken extremities in the last year playing indoor soccer, and that's mostly because of the boards ... and the nature of the game. We haven't had one injury of any kind in futsal," White said.

"Insurance rates are going up due to litigation relative to indoor soccer."

The early returns are not only positive on the injury front. Athletes really seem to take to the game.

"Canadian kids grow up playing hockey, they play basketball, they play indoor soccer in gyms, they already have that concept (of the rules)," Ongaro said. "You have to be positional, you have to be technical ... you have to understand zone presses."

Ongaro, who played outdoors with the former Edmonton Drillers and also coached the indoor team of the same name, is quick to dispel the notion that futsal is somehow revolutionary.

"It is something that every outdoor coach has used in preparation for the outdoor game. Modified small-sided games. Every coach that I know has played small-sided games to keep things moving," he said. "You can identify the better players very quickly when they touch a ball more often.

"Outdoor soccer is basically a whole bunch of little futsal games going on within the game itself, and a team that is able to keep possession and move the ball from zone to zone normally is the better team."

White confirmed meetings with representatives of the two school boards in Edmonton to explore using their facilities for futsal.

"We're confident that by next year there will be approval," White said. "It's going to take a while to catch on for a number of reasons, political and otherwise.

"But the game is here to stay."