Futsal kicks soccer up a notch

The Baltimore Sun

Successful soccer goalies often are aggressive, demonstrative people who are much like football quarterbacks. They stand on the field and direct their teammates.

Cody Greer, 15, wants to be that type of goalie. He served as a back-up goalie on North County High School's outdoor team last fall and this winter.

Greer turned to futsal, a modified version of indoor soccer that is rapidly growing in popularity nationwide -- and particularly at the Maryland SportsPlex in Millersville.

Unlike outdoor soccer, where scores of 1-0 and 2-1 are the norm rather than the exception, the fast-paced futsal games have many more goals.

"It really deals with foot skills and eye-foot coordination," Greer said. "I really like it a lot."

Futsal, which translates into "soccer for the salon," originated in Uruguay in 1930, and many famous players began their soccer careers in futsal, including Pele and Cristiano Ronaldo.

At SportsPlex, futsal is played on a court, which is about the size of a basketball court.

Five players are on each side: four players plus a goalie. The game emphasizes quickness, on-the-court intelligence and great passing skills.

There are also no boards around the field. That forces players to use different types of skills.

While many people are familiar with the Baltimore Blast, that team is in the Major Indoor Soccer League, which requires six players and a field measuring 200 feet by 85 feet.

"The [futsal] field is small, and you have to have better reaction time," said Nick Price from Linthicum, a sophomore at Mount St. Joseph who is thinking of playing indoor soccer one day. "It's a [faster] game."

About 30 million people in at least 100 countries play, according to the Web site tristatesports.com. In Italy, where the love for soccer is beyond passionate, 1million people play it -- and 4 million play futsal, the site found.

It also estimates that 70,000 people play futsal in the United States, and that number is growing.

SportsPlex, which opened about 18 months ago in the former Benfield Pines Ice Rink, was practically built around futsal.

The building is about 26,000 square feet, hosts futsal games almost daily. It boasts about 15 leagues, up from 12 in the fall.

Greer plays on the Blast, one of SportsPlex's teams. His team lost 9-6 to Thunder Alliance. Thunder Alliance, which is out of Howard County, repeatedly passed the ball through traffic and found open shots that Greer often could do little about.

However, he played aggressively as goalie, coming out to cut down the angles and force the Howard County team to take tougher shots.

Dale Kershaw, the facility manager at SportsPlex, has long been a futsal fan. Both of his children, who play outdoor soccer, also play futsal to hone their foot-control skills.

"The footwork improves, and the confidence on the ball improves," he said. "Personally, I started playing my kids in it as fast as I could do it."

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