Due to its similarity to soccer and the smaller field and number of players, futsal is an extremely popular hobby around the world. “Futsal in Brazil is like basketball or baseball here in the U.S. In fact, at younger ages they play it instead of soccer,” explained Michael Monheit, chair and head coach of the U.S. futsal team for the upcoming Maccabiah Games.
Two years ago, Monheit established the American Futsal Academy in King of Prussia. “Before that, clubs in the area used futsal for practice, but there were no actual futsal clubs here,” he said.
We established a new club in order to bring together the best futsal players in Greater Philadelphia, and we won the northeast championship in three age categories in our debut season, and in two age categories last year.
Monheit, an attorney and internet marketing manager for his living, took the reins of the Maccabiah team nine months ago. In the final squad for the tournament he included four players from Greater Philadelphia. “We selected many players from the northeast because we wanted to be able to practice frequently,” he explained. “Futsal depends a lot on timing, set plays and coordination between the players. In this way it reminds of basketball more than of soccer.”
While the popularity of the Major League Soccer has increased since the arrival of European stars in their early 30s such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry, futsal is a bit different game: Each team has five players on a field about the size of a basketball court. “Due to the smaller number of players, the players need to be more versatile,” said Monheit.
The four field players switch positions all the time, and even the goalkeeper has an important role in starting counter-attacks after he makes a save. Because of the size of the field, the transition from defense to attack is a lot quicker. For soccer teams, futsal is an important practice way for those aspects.
“Most of our players played soccer for most of their lives and only recently started playing futsal regularly,” continued the coach.
Futsal is growing around the world and about 20 teams will participate in the coming tournament. Despite that, I believe that we have a real chance to win a medal. We practice a lot and participated as a team in northeast tournaments. If you defend well, you can keep the score low and have a chance to beat a technically better team.
One of the players in the team is Monheit’s son, Matthew. The 21-year-old played soccer since the age of 4 and until last year, including the famous Coppa team in high school and the varsity team of MIT, where he studies environmental engineering. He has also participated in the previous Maccabiah Games with the Under-19 soccer team.
While being able to play in all four field positions, he prefers to play as the pivot — standing close to the opposition goal and taking advantage of the defense’s marking of him to create scoring opportunities for the two wingers playing on his sides.
“In the coming tournament there will be teams that are better than us, like Brazil and Israel,” said Matthew. “Winning a medal won’t be easy, but I think it’s possible.”
Unlike other players, which are often coached by their fathers in early ages, it’s the first time that my father coaches me. I really enjoy it. It helps me understand the game on the team level, and I also help him in the organization of the team, like an assistant coach.
On the other side of the field you can find Mike Markovitz, who plays as a “defender.” In addition to being the last line of defense, he coordinates the attacking play. In ninth grade, after 10 years of playing soccer for local teams, he joined the Lower Merion Velez, where under an Argentina-born coach which was specialized in futsal he participated in a few tournaments every year. At 20 years old, he captains the University of Pennsylvania club team, as he chose to focus on his bio-medical engineering studies and not to join the varsity team, which practices more often. In the summers, he plays for Philly United in the national Under-23 soccer league.
After representing the U.S. in smaller Maccabi tournaments in Argentina, Italy and Australia, he was hoping to qualify to the soccer team for the coming Maccabiah, but was eliminated in the trials as he was injured at the time and could not play to his full ability. To his fortune, Monheit was present in the trials and advised him to join his team.
“After watching some of our rivals in video, I think we have a good chance for a medal,” Markovitz said.
I really like the squad that we have. Since most of our players are young, if we keep holding practices after the tournament we will return much better for the 2017 games. I am very excited to play for this team and to fly to Israel for the first time.
Full U.S. squad for the tournament:
- Jesse Goleman from Pittsburgh, PA;
- Ari Lewis from Jericho, NY;
- Michael Markovitz from Blue Bell, PA – University of Pennsylvania;
- Matthew Monheit from Philadelphia, PA – Massachusetts Institute of Technology;
- Alexander Moshal from Wynnewood, PA – George Washington University;
- Noah Rothstein from Los Angeles, CA – George Washington University;
- Nicholas Salinger from Newton, MA;
- Powell Schneider from Cambridge, MA;
- Samuel Stein from Bryn Mawr, PA; and
- Samuel Stone from Maplewood, NJ – Bryant College.