New England Soccer Today

A Weekend Thriller


The collapsible bleachers parallel to the touchlines of the makeshift futsal court inside the Rhode Island College Recreation Center were packed with people young, old and in between on Friday. And it didn’t take long to figure out why.

With two games on tap, four sides set for action, and a host of talented footballers eager to showcase their skills, the crowd certainly got it’s money worth during the kickoff of the New England International Futsal Challenge, a three-day tournament that subsequently made its way to Fall River, Mass. on Saturday and will wrap up at UMass-Boston on Sunday afternoon.

According to the event’s organizers – including former Revolution general manager Craig Tornberg – the three-day showcase, which features two foreign-based outifts, is believed to be the first large-scale futsal tourney in New England in recent memory. After witnessing the atmosphere on Friday night in Providence, the only lingering question is this: What took so long?

For starters, the action on the court is truly edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Unlike soccer, its-not-so distant cousin, futsal is truly a game of inches. With the five-a-side setup, and little room to operate (a futsal court is essentially the size of a regulation basketball court), the play is inherently frantic, and to the untrained eye, borders on chaos. Paradoxically, class and skill easily shines through the frenzy. The ball trades partners quickly and seamlessly, requiring each participant to make a slew split-second decisions throughout the match.

During Friday’s first match between CF Os Belenenses – a team that was flown in from Portugal specifically for the tourney – and USA Select, a beautifully crafted sequence by the Portuguese saw them make no fewer than 12 short passes at various points on the court before Luis Vega finally tapped through their sixth goal in a 10-5 rout. But the tournament opener was only a prelude for what followed.

The second match was when the crowd truly witnessed the true beauty of the indoor game. Massachusetts-based Safira FC – three-time U.S. Futsal National Champions – faced a strong Rio Stars side from Brazil, and the 40-minute exhibition that followed was nothing short of brilliant.


Safira’s Alencar Junior scored two goals from virtually impossibly wide angles, the second of which elicited a host of kids to rush toward the touchline for high-fives, which he happily obliged. As cunning as the Brazilian scorer was, the combined quality of Rio Stars was impossible to overlook. After falling behind 3-1 at the break, the men in blue mounted a comeback using precision and patience to win 5-3 when it was all said and done.

Speaking of Junior – who’s also suited up for outdoor sides Western Mass Pioneers and Mass United FC – the stage was his and his alone on Friday. He was a Leonel Messi among men, and every feint and step over – of which there were many – was greeted with wild cheers from the enthusiastic crowd. While many hardcore fans of the outdoor game know of Junior’s ability on a full-fledged soccer pitch, his prowess on the futsal court is simply a sight to behold.

Between Junior’s sublime performance, the high-octane pace of both matches, and the accessibility of the stars from all four teams – many of whom posed for selfies with some of the younger fans – Friday’s doubleheader had everything a soccer fan could want.

The showcase of skill and talent was evident throughout Friday’s opener. Even the USA Select team, which was comprised of local collegiate players, displayed an uncanny knack for moving the ball quickly. In fact, Select keeper Chris Moura was undeniably a force in goal after making a number of Vine-worthy stops against a relentless Belenenses side to keep it close during the first half.

If the sights seen at Friday’s opener was any indication, then there’s every reason to believe that the tournament could very well be the first of many that’ll keep area fans coming back for more.

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