Youth play futsal at the Whittier Recreation Center on January 7, 2022. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

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Taka Muramatsu takes a pass about 10 yards from the goal, cuts right past a defender, and rockets a shot to the bottom right corner of the net. The 15-year-old St. Paul Central student exchanges high fives with teammates and hustles back on defense. He doesn’t need much space to score, and in futsal, there’s little to be had. 

Futsal is a fast game. A small-scale version of soccer played on hard courts with smaller nets and five players a side, it rewards quick thinking, teamwork, and precision. Muramatsu loves when strategy and opportunity come together to create a perfect scoring strike. 

“You can create what you want,” he said. 

Muramatsu is one of dozens of Twin Cities youth who head to the Whittier Recreation Center gym in south Minneapolis to play futsal in the evenings.  He said he’s found a welcoming community at the games hosted by Futsal Society, a nonprofit organization that organizes games for youth and young adults in Minneapolis. 

Futsal, like soccer, is a global game. The sport started in Uruguay in the 1930s, and spread throughout South America before making it to Africa, Asia, and Europe. Now it’s hitting the Twin Cities, where games attract crowds of East Africans, southeast Asians, Latino, Black and white players alike. More than 200 players competed in Futsal Society games in 2021; over 70 percent of them were born outside the United States, and 75 percent identify as Black. 

Dedicated futsal courts are coming to the Whittier neighborhood. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board allocated $400,000 to construct two new courts exclusively for futsal at Clinton Field Park. The courts will be designed this year, and built in 2023. Other mixed-use courts, which will feature basketball hoops and nets for futsal are planned throughout the system. 

“The next step is to keep the pressure on,” said Futsal Society executive director Caleb Crossley. 

Futsal Society began in 2016 with a mix of adults and teenagers who would gather once a week for games. Now, it mostly serves high school aged youth. Most kids are from or attend high school in south Minneapolis, but other players come from surrounding suburbs, St. Paul, and as far away as St. Cloud. Through his work on the coaching staff at Southwest Minneapolis High, Crossley has encouraged plenty of high schoolers to come out. 

Today Futsal Society hosts pickup nights, a high school league, college-aged league, and family nights. Unlike costly club soccer, playing with Futsal Society is free.

On a cold Friday in January, a team of mostly Somali teens who attend Washburn and Southwest high schools took on a diverse team made up of kids from Minneapolis South High and St. Paul schools. 

When the whistle blows, the competition is intense. 

“They go hard,” Crossley said. 

Call outs echo through the gym in English and Somali. Coaches and friends call encouragement and point out open players from the sidelines. A steady stream of “Give him options!” and “Get back!” are heard over the screeching of players cutting on the yellowing hardwood

When the boys from Washburn and Southwest come back to win 11-9, the players and coaches erupt in joy before handshakes and applause are exchanged between the teams. 

Suheyb Ali, 17, first played futsal in Somalia and Kenya as a young boy. Now a student at Washburn High, he was invited to play futsal while hanging out at a local basketball court. He started to come back every week, and has been playing for about two years. Through futsal, he’s met new friends from other schools and backgrounds. On the court, he’s a quick passer and dogged defender. 

“You just have to be fast,” Suheyb said. 

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board turned down the opportunity to get futsal courts installed at Central Park in south Minneapolis in 2018, because commissioners were opposed to having Target corporate branding on site. St. Paul accepted that offer at Hamline Park, and took funding from Minnesota United and Major League Soccer to install a futsal court at St. Clair Park in 2019

The games are played in two 20- minute halves. Players take turns rotating as the goalkeeper, who, unlike in soccer, can’t use their hands to block the small net. The ball is smaller, and denser than a standard soccer ball, giving it less bounce. A regulation court, like the ones planned for Clinton Field Park, are about 10 yards longer and 5 yards wider than a basketball court. 

Many of the players are on local high school varsity soccer teams, and nearly all have sound fundamentals and impressive dribbling abilities. Futsal is first and foremost a good time with friends, but the close quarters also help competitive players hone skills that translate to traditional soccer. 

“The best foot skills come from playing in a small space and being creative,” said Oketekyie Dakwa-Agyekum, a Ghanaian who played soccer at Luther College and now helps coach and organize for Futsal Society. 

Five years ago at 15 years old, Bishar Mohamed was playing against grown men. Nevertheless, he found a welcoming atmosphere that kept him coming back to Futsal Society games. Today, he helps coach and organize games, while still getting on the court in the young men’s leagues. Through futsal, he’s made friends from Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico.

“It’s a really calming place to come if you’re having a bad day,” Bishar said. 

He still lives in south Minneapolis, and said he’s happy to know dedicated futsal courts are coming to the area. More courts will let more players get involved, and more friendships be formed. 

Andrew Hazzard covers climate issues for Sahan Journal. He has worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Mississippi and Minnesota. He is member of Society of Environmental Journalists. His work at Sahan...