“What about Paralympic, futsal and beach soccer?”
That’s a popular question in the presidential race, where every topic is being thrown onto the table. And we get passionate but vague answers — mostly because no one really knows what to do differently other than “be responsive,” “fill vacancies more quickly” and “make sure we’re paying athletes’ expenses.”
It’s especially difficult with Paralympic soccer. The 7-a-side competition for those who’ve had a stroke, traumatic brain injury or cerebral palsy has been dropped from the Paralympic program. The USA has never qualified for the 5-a-side competition for blind athletes.
Beach soccer actually overlaps with futsal a bit, drawing some players from professional indoor soccer. (Fortunately, FIFA doesn’t seem to mind that the USA’s indoor league, the MASL, isn’t sanctioned through U.S. Soccer.)
So what about futsal?
Everyone speaks passionately about it — as a training tool. It’s something kids should be playing.
But how does that translate to a national team? And what’s the ceiling for a pro futsal league in this country? (Major League Futsal exists under the auspices of the non-FIFA Asociacion Mundial de Futsal and North American Futsal Federation; the Professional Futsal League has the backing of Mark Cuban and others from the NBA but hasn’t done anything since 2016.)
When I was in Barcelona recently, the only live soccer I could watch on the cable package in our apartment was Barcelona academy soccer and some of the UEFA Futsal Cup. The latter had some nice skill and a handful of fans.
Clearly, you’re not going to convince Messi and anyone else worth $100 million-plus in the outdoor game to come in and play pro futsal. At least not year-round.
So is futsal — not for kids, but for pros — condemned to be a game for people who don’t make it outdoors? Or could it possibly be like beach volleyball, a sport that attracts as much attention and talent as the outdoor game?