Courtesy: Soccer NationCan Futsal Help American Soccer? The Answer is Yes.
by Stephen PrendergastFriday, April 27, 2012
Soccer News: Can Futsal Help Put America into World Contention?
When the U.S. U-23 National Team finished out of the running in CONCACAF qualifying for a spot in the 2012 Olympics, the fingers began pointing almost immediately. It was Head Coach Caleb Porter’s fault for not coaching well enough. It was USMNT Head Coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s fault for not telling Porter how to coach. It was U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati’s fault for choosing Porter in the first place. But maybe the problem goes beyond a head coach, back to the long-time basic style of American soccer.
Recently Claudio Reyna has been the guest of soccer pundits, many of them asking about the U-23 collapse and how it happened. The still-athletic Reyna had a stellar career that included captaining the U.S. Men’s National Team, German Bundesliga club VfL Wolfsburg and the New York Red Bulls. He is currently the U-23 assistant coach and the Youth Technical Director for U.S. Soccer. On March 30, just days after the draw with El Salvador, Reyna was interviewed by former USMNT teammate Jimmy Conrad on The Mixer. In mid-April Reyna spoke with Arch Bell for ESPN.com and was quoted by Mike Woitalla with SoccerAmerica. One idea that kept coming up was the need for young American players to get better in “small, tight spaces.”
On The Mixer, Reyna told Conrad that he felt American players needed to be better technically, and that in the game it was about “really getting better in small spaces.” He went on to explain that American soccer has been about “running and overpowering teams and being physical.” However, this is not serving us well, and he suggests a new focus.
Claudio Reyna advocates, “The small, tight spaces throughout the field – not just in the final third – is where I think we have to really, really improve as a soccer-playing nation.”
Speaking to Bell at ESPN.com, Reyna elaborated on that idea. "I think kids should be doing pickup or futsal all the time," Reyna told Bell. "I think it's very important for technique. In Argentina, futsal is what kids play growing up. They get very comfortable in small spaces with the ball. It's usually less pressure, so they can try things." Clearly there is something to it when someone of Reyna’s caliber talks about the importance of futsal.
Sean Bowers, who played with the U.S. National Futsal Team from 1995-2004 and now runs 619 Futsal, whole-heartedly agrees with Reyna on the need for American youth players to become more technically sound and stronger in small spaces.
“All youth players should be touching a futsal ball as much as possible,” said Bowers. “I had the honor of playing against Claudio, and he was a terrific player and had tremendous skill. I think he really hit the nail on the head when he talked about futsal and what benefits our sport brings to the youth soccer player.”
For anyone interested in learning more about the game of futsal, 619 Futsal’s spring league is currently in session through early June and Summer camp registration is now open. Spring Season Games are played on Sundays at the Miramar College Field House. While there are no open spaces, people are welcome to come out and watch and perhaps talk to players and coaches about the game. In addition, a summer camp is scheduled from August 6-10. More information about the programs can be found on the 619 Futsal website.
Just because people like Reyna and Bowers, who have both competed on the international stage, believe that futsal and small-sided games will help, that does not mean that every youth club in America is going to run to join the parade. The real question is should they? The answer, coming from the experts, is yes, they should.
Just look at the number of younger teams that rely on a steady goalkeeper and a big, strong kid up front to win. The goalie feeds the ball up forward, the big kid takes the ball and booms it past the opposing goalie for the score. It’s the “just win, baby” mentality.
It’s just this scenario that Reyna was probably relating to when he told Bell that “the winning aspect is what has caused some really ugly youth soccer.”
It is going to take a ground swell of support from parents to make the kinds of changes that are needed to re-make the face of American soccer. Although they may be out of the UEFA Champions League finals, FC Barcelona routinely wins big games based on the idea of controlling the ball. When you look at their top players, none of them are the “boom-ball” type, and all of them have grown up focused on “technique, tactical intelligence and mental speed.” It certainly isn’t “boom-ball” that teaches these traits.
If America is going to avoid an Olympic-style collapse during qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, there will undoubtedly need to be changes made.
More than just technical skill will be required – the hunger that Canada and El Salvador showed will have to become a part of the American soccer mentality. We can’t go into the games believing we “deserve” to be there, because we clearly do not. As the old Smith-Barney commercials used to say, we have to do it the old-fashioned way: “We earn it.”
Posted by Luca Ranocchiari