U.S. Under-14 Boys’ National Team head coach Brian Johnson is in a unique spot in that he sees firsthand the end product of his players’ club training on the international level.
The majority of the U-14 BNT players are groomed through the Development Academy system. During the Academy’s winter stage, that January-February futsal period is integral in enhancing the players’ skills as they continue their road to the National Team level.
“Futsal is another avenue and another tool to aid in their development,” Johnson said. “For them to be able to get the amount of touches that they’re getting, they can work on leadership qualities within the small numbers because they’re more influential with the players around them, versus a whole-size field. But overall, the technical work at this younger age group is the focus, and they’re really getting a lot of it when they’re playing futsal.”
YNT and Academy clubs are always driving home the importance of possession play and style, and futsal reinforces that approach to a level many players have not experienced before.
“I think for us, especially with futsal and the ball being on the ground so much, the ball starts with the keeper a lot, so we’re working on the confidence to build out of the back with pressure on,” Johnson said. “A lot of times on a bigger field with full-size numbers, you don’t quite have that confidence. Here, you don’t have a choice. In futsal, you have to play out, and people have to move with and without the ball. It translates from these smaller numbers into the bigger numbers really well because you build out of the back, are attack-minded and keep possession of the ball. Those are important things that we implement not only in the Development Academy but also with the Youth National Teams.”
Midfielder Tim Bielic, who plays for Sockers FC and the U.S. U-14 Boys’ National Team, said this is his first time playing futsal at a competitive level. During the Chicago regional futsal event, he saw many areas where he needed to be quick on his feet and his decision making.
“In futsal, you need to have a plan before you make a play or make a pass,” Bielic said. “Since everything is so fast, you need to have a plan right before you pass the ball or shoot the ball, and that’s very different from outdoor. In outdoor you have more space.”
After futsal, Bielic sees the benefits when he returns to Academy play or gets called into the U-14 BNT.
“I have been working on my touch a lot more during the game of futsal, and when I go outdoors to an 11-v-11 game, it makes it a lot easier to control the ball and make good plays,” Bielic said.
The futsal phase of the season, while certainly benefiting offensive-focused players, also strengthens the game for defenders and goalkeepers, such as Players Development Academy and U-14 BNT center back Dom DeAlmeida and New York Red Bulls and U-14 BNT goalkeeper Alex Rando.
“For someone such as Alex, this is going to help with his foot skills to build out of the back, which is what we ask and require all of our goalkeepers to be able to do,” Johnson said. “It’s also important for communication and organizing the players in front of him. For Dominic, it’s the same types of things, including positioning – when you have the ball and when you don’t. Futsal is important because there’s so much transition. As a defender, you have to be prepared. In the transitional part of futsal, that is really important for Dom so he is aware of the players around him.”
This is the second winter in which the Academy has incorporated its futsal period, and it will continue to be an important element moving forward for the U-13/14 age group.
“If players are starting to incorporate more repetitions, they’re becoming masters of the ball and students of the game,” Development Academy Director Jared Micklos said. “That is the foundation of developing their technical ability, which is what you need at the highest level. This is just the beginning of what they’re going to do, that starts that pathway to becoming an elite-level player that eventually ends up on our National Team, through all the other next steps that happen with hard work and translating what happens tactically into the game. They can take this futsal model, which is small in terms of numbers and space, and then grow as they take their game to the full field.”