Tucked away, inconspicuously, on a sun-drenched court at Judkins Park, an American sporting revolution is brewing. A ball hurls across the pavement, booted from foot to foot at dizzying speeds. Upon first blush, it looks like soccer – just faster. But in reality, it is much more.
Meet futsal, the most popular sport you’ve never heard of.
The game can be played indoors or outdoors on a condensed and enclosed hardtop playing field with shortened, narrower goals than soccer. With five players per side, the action is quick with a strict emphasis for ball control.
Simply put, futsal is to soccer what street ball is to basketball.
“Futsal is really the classy street soccer,” said Gabriel Rapier, co-founder of Seattle’s Puget Sound Futsal league and an evangelist for the sport.
With roots in Brazil and Uruguay, futsal is the faster-paced cousin of soccer. Just like soccer, futsal is governed by FIFA, and even claims its own World Cup.
As soccer’s World Cup envelops the globe, many of the stars on the pitch laid their roots on the futsal court. Such soccer studs include Brazil’s Neymar, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, and Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo. Missing from the list of futsal-born stars is a single name from the United States Men’s National Team. That may soon change, however.
As soccer’s popularity reaches an all-time high in America, Rapier said futsal is following on its tail. Around the world, futsal is the fastest growing indoor sport. That’s the goal for Seattle and America too, Rapier said.
“The future of futsal is now, we don’t think it’s off in the future,” Rapier said on a promotional video on the Puget Sound Futsal league’s website. “The skillset, the creativity, the fan base is here in America, and even more so in Seattle with the Sounders.”
Futsal is growing in America, slowly wiggling its way into urban areas including Seattle, America’s soccer hub. Seattle is also where you’ll find a growing demographic of kids and adults devoted to elevating futsal into the national spotlight.
Gabriel Rapier along with fellow co-founders Eban Haase, and Rico Victoriano have brought futsal to life in Seattle, constructing the Puget Sound Futsal League in 2006. The aim of the league, Rapier says, is to bring futsal to anyone and everyone who wants to play. Rapier and his league work with afterschool programs along with parks around Seattle to grow the sport and to offer an alternative to select soccer, which can become far too expensive for families to afford.
Such was the case for 36-year-old Rapier, who – at 6-foot-5 – grew up playing soccer and basketball. But Rapier said he was unable to continue playing with select soccer clubs when the annual fees climbed higher than he and his family could afford.
“If you have the money, sometimes you’re able to play on a select team – not necessarily because you’re better though,” Rapier said. “That’s part of the reason our soccer careers got cut short.”
Without lofty club fees or excessive equipment, futsal’s reach could unearth talent that otherwise might have gone undiscovered.
“Just look at the top level; there’s never been a superstar from a rich, elite background,” Rapier said. “All demographics are able to play. The simplicity of it is that you just need some running shoes, you don’t need shin guards; you need very little. The minimalism of it, to me, is what makes it a beautiful game because it has to emanate from the player.”
Just a few blocks from his childhood home, Rapier plays host to area kids of all ages and all sizes for futsal clinics and games several times each week on a court he helped paint and construct.
From his post at goalkeeper, Rapier shouts out words of encouragement and constructive criticism to a batch of young futsal enthusiasts. It is clear, by the footwork and ball control, these kids are talented. Several of the 50 to 80 kids involved play for the Sounders Academy, an organization that aims to develop the top youth soccer talent for the Sounders FC full team.
It doesn’t matter what the talent level or age, though. To Rapier, the message is simple.
“Futsal is a game for everybody,” he said. “As we always say ‘Futsal for all’.”
Futsal at Judkins Park
2150 S Norman St
4 p.m. until sundown on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays