Aug. 8—But Tuesday afternoon, over a dozen kids ran around on freshly painted pavement, kicking a ball that looked like a soccer ball but on closer inspection was smaller and less bouncy. They were playing futsal, a variation on soccer popular in Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Uruguay where it was created in the 1930s.
As pickleball is taking over the nation, Hartford residents asked leaders, like Fonfara, for futsal.
“Nothing against pickleball,” said Mayor Luke Bronin at the opening Tuesday. “But I think futsal was the right choice for Hartford.”
The $1 million approved through the state Bond Commission, $500,000 which went toward this project, turned what used to be a vacant lot into the city’s first futsal court with lighting to allow for play after dark.
“This beautiful futsal court that we’re all standing on right now, and that these kids were just playing on a minute ago, was for many years, a vacant blighted space where there was broken glass and puddles of water,” Bronin said. “It was both unsightly and dangerous, and right here in the middle of one of our beautiful parks.”
The opening of the futsal court comes less than a week after the announcement of funding to rehabilitate and preserve two historic structures at Colt Park, which has received authorization to become a national historic park.
But what is futsal? And of all the sports, why was this the right fit for Hartford?
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The court, which looks a bit like a basketball court with soccer nets on it, sits in the shadow of the Trinity Health Stadium, home to the Hartford Athletic. Futsal is its own sport, but it is often used as a way to train footwork for people looking to improve their soccer skills, a fitting resource for Hartford.
“There’s a lot of soccer culture in the city of Hartford,” said Brian Gallagher, founder of Active City, which runs Hartford Soccer Club. “Futsal is a piece of that.”
Everson Maciel, Hartford Athletic academy director, is a former national men’s U.S. futsal player. He emphasized futsal’s ability to become a sport of its own in the area, starting with this court.
“In other countries — Brazil, Spain, Italy — it’s becoming a separate sport where the kids play professionally,” Maciel said. “We qualified to the World Cup in 2021 and we went to Lithuania, where U.S. futsal was back into the worldwide scene.”
The rules of futsal are similar to soccer with a few variations. In a game of futsal, the players face off with two teams of five, rather than 11. If you get five fouls, the sixth one is a penalty.
“It prevents you from being too aggressive and it’s more focused on the skills,” Maciel said.
Gallagher explained that youth soccer players in Hartford will sometimes train footwork inside at a basketball court when the fields are too soggy and because a hard surface means the ball moves faster. Now, the futsal court will become another alternative for rainy days.
“When the weather’s not so nice and the fields are too wet or too muddy, a futsal court is a great place to go play so we’re not tearing up our fields,” Gallagher said.
He also floated the idea of more futsal courts in Hartford.
“We can have a whole city-wide league for futsal in the summer,” Gallagher said.