Monday, February 18 marked the end of the three-day Northeast Regional U.S. Futsal Tournament held in Wildwood, New Jersey. Over 1,000 players and fans packed their favorite futsal gear and headed to the snow-ridden Jersey Coast to watch 180 teams battle for a spot at the Nationals.
Open Men’s Tournament Champions
Massachusetts-based Safira was victorious in the Open Men’s Final Monday afternoon, kicking fellow statesmen the Expos to the curb. The Open Men’s Category attracted the largest fanbase over the weekend with parents and young players alike crowding around the small basketball-sized court.
Safira was undefeated in the first three rounds, beating out Chessie Bay (MD), SMFC (MD), and AFA Maccabbi (PA) to advance to the Semifinals. Before heading into the semis, Safira had allowed only two goals, both goals coming from SMFC during the 9:20am Sunday morning square-off.
Denison Cabral FA, a team that is overseen by former U.S. Futsal Team Captain Denison Cabral, posed the greatest risk to Safira but fell just short, falling 7-5 in Monday’s semifinal opener. Cabral himself could not attend the tournament as he fulfilled coaching duties in Kansas City this past weekend at a National Tournament.
“It was unfortunate that Cabral was not here because he is one of the best futsal players in the country,” said Mikael Tigrett, a member of Denison Cabral FA’s team and a former college soccer player himself at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “Having him on the court could have changed the tournament for us.”
While Cabral’s absence was felt by his own team, Safira had all of its players ready to compete. Defeating the Expos 3-2 in the final game, Safira played well from the tournament’s start to finish. Safira’s impressive showing is evident in the team’s statistics. With 27 goals in less than 48 hours, Safira encapsulated futsal’s defining features: skilled, fast-paced movement and high-scoring games.
Because of these attributes, futsal was often compared at the tournament to a hybrid of soccer and basketball. According to Melissa Seserko, the mother of an American Futsal Academy (AFA) U-13 player, futsal is like basketball with your feet.
“You need to have speed and skills with your feet,” said Seserko. “Not every soccer player can play futsal.” Melissa’s daughter Melinda, who happens to play on an all-boys team for AFA, is a basketball player like her mother and even missed her travel basketball games to attend the futsal tournament.
AFA’s President Paulo Ferreira seconded this sentiment, saying that futsal’s speedy qualities attracted him to the sport in his native Portugal, where he began playing the sport at the age of 10. The soccer coach and Academy Director said he was drawn to “the movement, the touches on the ball, the speed of the thinking of the game. My coach used to tell me futsal was similar to basketball because you have to move to receive the ball and move to advance.”
The Future of Futsal
The fast-paced nature of the game is mirrored by its growth which, according to Alex Para, President and C.E.O. of U.S. Futsal, is taking place both in the US and abroad.
The world has been playing futsal for nearly 80 years and, according to Para, the sport continues to grow in popularity as soccer fans recognize that some of soccer’s greatest players grew up playing futsal. “Spain started playing futsal in the 1970’s.,” said Para. “Now nine of the eleven starters for the 2010 World Cup were futsal players.”
Para knows futsal’s benefits for player development firsthand as he began playing the sport at a young age in Argentina. According to Para, many children in other countries play futsal from the age of six to twelve because of a lack of outdoor soccer fields available to young children.
Para described how the sport’s popularity with the world’s youth is connected to the need for players to always be alert. And the former U.C. Berkeley soccer player seems certain that futsal is here to stay.
“Children prefer futsal more. Just ask.”