Toronto Cruz Azul Brings Flair and Talent to Super F Championships

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Toronto Cruz Azul brings international flair, talent to Super F Champions Cup 

A futsal team that has represented Canada at tournaments in Brazil is the first from outside the U.S. to play in Kansas City.

By David Knopf, Futsal World    

Toronto Cruz Azul, the first international team to play in the Super F Champions Cup, is up 8-0 at the half and Coach Kris Fernandes warns not to let up.
“Keep doing what we’re doing,” said Fernandes, a dead ringer for a young James Cagney, the actor. “We know what we want to do. Keep it simple. Watch the 3v2 break.”

Cruz Azul has just six players — a single sub — but there’s plenty of quality with Matthew Rios, Alex Lopez, Jonatan Bustamante, Julio Garcia, Alvaro Yaques and goalkeeper Roy Blanche, the oldest player in the group at 29.

Cruz Azul isn’t just a pick-up team created for the tournament, which is the case with Rush, its opponent. Fernandes’s team is a smooth, experienced futsal team in the truest sense of the word. The core group — several other regular team members didn’t make the trip to Kansas City — are champs of the Canadian Premier Futsal League.

More impressively, the team represented Canada in 2007and 2008 in Brazil as the Canadian National Futsal Team. Blanche, the team’s experienced goalkeeper/court general, actually played in a 2007 match against the Brazilian Falcao, easily the world’s best-known futsal player.

“We lost all our games,” Blanche said of the team’s 2008 performance, “but we lost respectably.”

So why did a team with an international résumé come to a tournament in the Midwest?

Fernandes, who’s day job is in itself singular — his business card describes him as a Futsal Journalist — came across the Super F Champions Cup during an online search.

“We realized that Super F were developing a reputation,” he said. “Now that they’ve got futsal and the tournament, we’re going to spread this back home.”

Fernandes said the players who made the trip to Kansas City had to sacrifice to make it happen.

“The make huge sacrifices to be on the team, working in jobs they basically don’t want, just to do this,” he said.
 
Unlike many American cities, Toronto isn’t a place where soccer and futsal are overshadowed by other sports. Toronto FC, the Major League Soccer team, sold out every game in its first season. Its fans were easily the league’s most passionate and gained a reputation for traveling to away games.

“Toronto is such a soccer-crazy city,” Fernandes said.

The city is also Canada’s most fervent futsal hot bed. Fernandes sand he is working with the Toronto City Futsal Club to make new inroads and promote the game’s benefits as a training tool for youth players.

“We’re working with TCFC to bring futsal to the community,” he said.

Although several Toronto Cruz Azul players compete outdoors for their college or club teams, their approach to the game — a diamond formation that involves the goalie as a playmaker — is futsal-specific.

In its Super F Champions Cup games on Feb. 15 — victories over Rush and a talented Super F World team in the final — Blanche, the goalkeeper, directed a patient attack from the back point of the diamond. If the opponent chose to pack it in, Cruz Azul played patiently, gradually probing the defense with passes and waiting for an opening.

The team’s organization, diagonal movement and flawless foot skills are all hallmarks of futsal at the highest levels. Fernandes said he’s become a passionate promoter of the sport because of its benefits for developing outdoor players.

“If you go to Brazil, you’ll never see a child playing soccer until they’re 12 or 13,” he said. “You watch a game on television and wonder how one of the stars got those moves. It’s futsal, and it’s amazing that people just now are realizing it.”

Fernandes said he’s hopeful that Canada’s soccer federation eventually will come to the same realization as U.S. Soccer: That futsal is a valuable tool to develop youth players and, ultimately, strengthen national teams.

Countries such as England and Ireland recently incorporated national futsal programs after realizing they’d lost ground internationally to Brazil, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Argentina and Russia, countries where futsal is already part of the culture.

“Futsal does more than help develop (outdoor soccer players),” Fernandes said. “In the 1970s, Canada always beat the U.S. Now we don’t even dream of beating the U.S. It’s because of the system.”

U.S. Soccer recently included futsal among its recommendations for developing young players and has a specific training program for futsal referees.
 
Fernades said he and his players were impressed by Champions Cup hospitality, facilities, organization and refereeing. One innovation in 2009 was providing a large court for Men’s Open teams whose dimensions were on a par with international surfaces. 

 “People don’t think a meter makes much of a difference,” Fernandes said. “But another meter allows the players to show their skills.”
Fernandes said Cruz Azul hopes to return in 2010 and bring other Canadian teams.

“Everyone’s been very polite, the referees were excellent and the organization has been solid,” he said.

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