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The new U.S. futsal league is already Americanizing its soccer

Written by Will Parchman

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Of the earth-quaking soccer news to make (and break) headlines in these early days of 2016, the fact that there is about to be a genuine American futsal league is perhaps down the list. Who has time for indoor soccer when China is spending its GDP on players and the Premier League is releasing funky new logos?

Last week, we got word the Pro Futsal League had been strapped to a rocket and launched into the Milky Way: Mark Cuban was becoming a principle owner in the league headed up by, randomly, Cuban’s own GM with the Dallas Mavericks Donnie Nelson.

Futsal being futsal, the announcement perhaps didn’t get the attention you might expect for the amount of readymade ownership already lining up at the door (or maybe it did, if you’re cynical). But now that we know more, it looks like the PFL is preparing to go all MLS 1.0 on the futsal game.

First off, we know that international buyers are already in the wings. Barcelona will own one of the two proposed New York City teams, and the Brooklyn Nets’ Russian owner (WHO IS A LITERAL WIZARD) Mikhail Prokhorov is another. Atletico Madrid, Boca Juniors of Argentina and Corinthians of Brazil are also rumored to have either full or partial stakes in teams, as well as an unnamed Chinese billionaire’s interest in the San Francisco franchise. So. There is power here.

Slated to start play in 2017 (wouldn’t it be hilarious if this league started before LAFC, announced a year and a half ago?), the league will have 16 teams and money to burn.

Oh, and it will also feature an American rules set. Ah. Dammit.

The Dallas Morning News reported on Wednesday that, among other things, the PFL is strategizing its own unique set of rules intended to blend basketball and soccer into one. Futsal is already considered something of a cousin to basketball considering it is indoors and features five-a-side. Other than that? The games aren’t similar, but two of the three principle owners are in NBA management, so, you know. Convenient things.

Here’s what the league is proposing changed:

– Instead of two 20-minute halves, PSL games will feature four 12-minute quarters. This is a direct port from the NBA, which effectively adds eight minutes of game time onto the clock (and roughly 30-45 minutes worth of total time spent in the arena, based on an alteration we’ll get to in a minute). Considering how much this league is likely to pander to a slice of the NBA market, get ready to see cross-promotion galore.

– This isn’t so much of a “change,” per se, but the PFL will play on the largest allowable court size under FIFA rules (20×40 meters) to allow the game space to breathe. Many of the world’s top futsal leagues play in closer quarters to force more technicality out of the game; the smaller the court, the more paramount the foot skills. This is what Nelson told the DMN about that.

“That’s because we will have, even in our first year, the best futsal players on the planet,” Nelson said. “So we have to give them the maximum space to operate.”

Well then.

– TV timeouts. Hot damn TV timeouts.

– Since we have a deathly aversion to ties in this country, the PFL will under no circumstances allow that most incorrigible of fates to be visited upon is holy matches. In the event of a tie through regulation, there will be a five-minute 4v4 OT. If that doesn’t settle matters, they’ll effectively kill the game with a running shootout straight out of the MLS-is-really-weird days of the 90’s.

Given the amount of investment in this league, its future existence is nearly ironclad. Unless they all simply get bored and back out a few years in, the PFL has enough backing capital to exist in a space of minuscule profit margins and still dutifully truck ahead at full sail.

Wonky rules aside, this is good news. When the Development Academy introduced futsal into its U14 training component in time for the 2013-14 season, the idea was to foster a more technical, close-quarters style of play among a typically more rigid American way of playing. It’s far too early (and not nearly pervasive enough of a plan) to judge its fruits just yet, but the idea was pure. The more occasions a player has to puzzle out a creative solution in a 1v1 setting, the better he’ll be once it comes to full-sided games.

So the introduction of a league that has designs on being the best of its kind in the world is no small potatoes. It is no secret that the game began in Uruguay and quickly found its most fertile roots in Brazil, which used a futsalling ethos to build a player base most consider to be the most individually talented in the world. If we can use any piece of that to make the American soccer experience even a mite less collective and more individually pleasing, than we are undertaking a work worth trumpeting.

But let’s also not forget that futsal is, by and large, not a crossover game. The world’s best futsal players are wonderful in 1v1 situations but tend to stay in that realm for a reason. For up-and-coming American YNT players, it’s a training supplement, not a full-time gig.

In any case, adding another facet of the game on American shores can only be viewed, at least in a macro sense, as a net positive. More soccer is good. If you have any ethos attached to your life, allow that to be among them.

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