Futsal brings a short, energetic game of football to a smaller, cobbled court

As the Cleveland Browns, Cavaliers, and Indians continued their collective title slump in the 1990s, goalie Otto Orf and the professional indoor soccer team Cleveland Crunch won three championships.

Orf played for the Cleveland Crunch and the renamed Force from 1989 to 2004. But while he played indoor soccer in Cleveland, he also competed internationally in another sport – futsal.

He was named Goalkeeper of the Year at the 1996 Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Football Futsal Championship in Guatemala. His team won this tournament and qualified for the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Segovia, Spain.

Today, Orf is a passionate advocate for the sport that shares similarities with football.

“I believe this is the best way to develop young football players,” he said.

Otto Orf (right) with fellow USA men’s national futsal team coaches Pablo da Silva (left) and Dusan Jakica (middle) at a UEFA seminar in Finland in 2019. (Submitted by Otto Orf).

On July 1, 2021, he came to Kiwanis Recreation Park in Painesville to help dedicate what a city press release described as “Lake County’s first public futsal courts.”

“Wherever there’s a community that wants to try to get involved, I’ve tried to make it easy to play,” Orf said.

But why futsal?

According to Orf, futsal can help budding footballers develop their skills. Teams are only made up of five players, matches are two 20-minute periods, and the field is much smaller, resulting in a much faster game where each player gets more action.

“Compared to outdoor football or indoor football or even seven-on-seven football, you get between three and seven times – they average five times the number of touches to actually have the ball on your feet,” explained Orf.

He added: “In futsal there’s a goal attempt about every 60 seconds, and if there’s something kids love, it’s taking a shot and trying to score.”

Futsal also helps players develop their passing skills. Orf said that unlike indoor football, there is no wall around the playing field. Because the pitch is much smaller and players lose possession if the ball goes out of bounds, they are more motivated to control their passes better.

Painesville Recreation Supervisor Kevin Cindric added, “Futsal is a very fast sport that develops quick thinking and precise footing skills. Teams must learn to work together in small areas, which develops useful skills that can translate directly to the football pitch.

The futsal ball is also smaller and heavier than a standard soccer ball. Cindric said it “keeps the ball close to the ground to ensure quick ball movement”.

Otto Orf (second in red shirt from left) and other coaches speak to the United States men's national futsal team before a game in Slovakia.  (Submitted by Otto Orf).
Otto Orf (second in red shirt from left) and other coaches speak to the United States men’s national futsal team before a match in Slovakia. (Submitted by Otto Orf).

Orf promotes futsal not only as a training tool, but also as a game for gym classes and other community events. While football uses a large grassy pitch, futsal requires a smaller pitch with a hard surface.

“That’s really where I think futsal can change the sport in the United States, especially by addressing the lack of sporting options in urban areas, in inner cities and deprived areas,” said he declared.

In addition to promoting futsal as a recreational sport, Orf continues to contribute to the game in other ways. He is an assistant coach for the USA men’s national futsal team, which took part in the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Lithuania last year.

Otto Orf and members of the USA Men's National Futsal Team celebrate a victory over the Dominican Republic which qualified the USA for the 2021 FIFA Futsal World Cup in Lithuania.  (Submitted by Otto Orf).
Otto Orf and members of the USA Men’s National Futsal Team celebrate a victory over the Dominican Republic which qualified the USA for the 2021 FIFA Futsal World Cup in Lithuania. (Submitted by Otto Orf).

He is also the founder of the Heart and Sole Futsal Academy and the HandsOnSports Foundation, which, according to its website, promotes soccer and futsal by “providing equipment and instruction to young people in communities where opportunities for leisure is limited.

Finally, Orf worked with a former Crunch teammate to co-found the Great Lakes Futsal Leagues, which operate in Lorain, Strongsville and Akron.

“We probably have one of the top 10 leagues in the country,” he said.

Local residents who want to experience futsal can head to the two courts located at Painesville Kiwanis Recreation Park, 301 Latimore St.

“The Painesville Futsal Courts have been very popular throughout the first year they have been open,” said Cindric.

He added: “Futsal helps people stay active and creates a healthy lifestyle. We see everyone from children to adults playing on our futsal pitches.

A full list of rules is posted at the entrance to the courts, which are located at the back of the park on the former tennis courts.

“The best way to learn is to show up and participate in pickup games,” Cindric said.