Thursday | December 14, 2017
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A foot in the door: Coaches laud futsal as key breeding ground for soccer

PAHOA – The mission statement for Big Island Futsal is to the point: develop into an elite player.

Keone Au has a more descriptive way of endorsing the sport.

“This is the place where badass soccer players start,” Au said Sunday after his Kona-based Culture FC team was crowned champion of the Austronesian Futsal Cup at Pahoa Community Recreation Center Gymnasium.

The victory, of course, was nice, but Au isn’t merely in this to win it. Rather, he and Big Island Futsal president Rico Ferrari want keiki to dig it, which in turn will spawn skill development.

“Tighter space, obviously the surface is different,” Au said. “It requires more skill. It’s quicker, more decision-making, you’re under pressure constantly.”

The sport has South American roots, and futsal in Portuguese translates loosely to “indoor soccer,” but there are no walls, which Au sees an advantage because players have to chase after the ball, all the while working on footwork and technical skills.

“It creates an aggressive mentality because they get confident with the ball,” Au said, “and build a connection to the game.”

Soccer may be the beautiful game, but Ferrari said futsal is the antidote if aspects of the game seem mundane for an age group that is known to hold short attention spans.

“With 11-on-11s (soccer), you can get bored,” he said. “If you’re a goalkeeper, it can get really boring. Futsal is all about speed.”

And Ferrari is not anti-soccer; quite the opposite. He used to run the Puna branch of the American Youth Soccer Organization and he’s an assistant girls coach at Keaau High.

He started Big Island Futsal in 2014 “because it was always raining, and we wanted something to do.”

His advice to parents and keiki: join a soccer club, which will in turn lead to futsal opportunities.

“Futsal very easily translates to grass, but it doesn’t translate the other way,” Ferrari said.

Culture FC entered as Big Island Gold and finished 4-1 in winning the third annual Austronesian Futsal Cup, which was held on Hawaii Island for the first time and also featured two teams from Australia, two from Maui and Big Island Red.

Culture FC is aptly named, Au said.

He credited Brazilian mentors with introducing him to street ball, which is simply less-organized futsal. Au started holding open street soccer sessions, radio blasting, with 25 to 40 kids showing up.

“The just play, play, play,” he said. “We’re trying to emulate that soccer vibe (in Brazil). This is the fruition of us building the culture on the Kona side.

“My only advice to people is if you value your kids’ development, play as much futsal and street ball as you can.”

The growth was on display over the weekend with Jack-Ryan Jeremiah of Kailua-Kona earning most valuable player of the tournament, and Au also credited the consistent play of Aziah Nelson of Keaau, and Kailua-Kona’s Noah Condon and Ciara Blaber.

Looking big picture, Au sees a correlation in World Cup success between South American countries that have long valued futsal and those that don’t, pointing to the U.S. men’s team’s failure to secure a spot in the 2018 tournament.

“People think our kids are different from the ones that grow up in (Brazil) and Argentina, but if you provide the right environment, kids will respond the same way kids there do,” he said.

Sunday was also the final day of Big Island Futsal’s fall/winter schedule in the 14U and 12U divisions.

Ferrari called the league small but looking to get bigger, but it’s grown enough that a spring season was added, beginning in March, and the 2018 state club finals will be held in Pahoa.

For more information on Big Island Futsal, email or visit

“In five years, this is going to be huge, because kids love it,” Au said.


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