It’s a fast-paced game with lots of goals, the players battling each other for the ball all over the field, plays being made off the boards and fans right on top of the action.
Sound like soccer?
It’s indoor soccer, and it’s a completely different game than the outdoor version, say several local coaches and soccer enthusiasts.
“It’s such a different dynamic,” said Ryan Cronin, who is the customer service manager at Soccer Planet in Urbana and the coach of an under-9 soccer team for Illinois Futbol Club. “The biggest difference is the rate of play. It’s a very up-tempo, quick game. Subs are coming in on the fly. There’s a running clock.”
“You’ve got a lot of players around the ball all the time, and you’re always involved in the play,” added Kevin Love, the director of coaching for the Illinois Futbol Club. “It’s more like hockey or basketball. ... You’re always one pass away from getting the ball.”
Teams score more often indoors. Twelve-year-old Aidan Garrett and his teammates on a U12 team scored 12 goals in winning their game a couple weekends ago.
“It makes the game much more interesting,” Aidan said.
The indoor field at Soccer Planet is busy nearly every night and all days on weekends with league play, from hardcore competitive teams to the soccer moms recreational league to youth leagues.
Graham Berry, owner of Soccer Planet, played soccer from the time he was a child in England. When he came here, he was disappointed there was no opportunity to play soccer in the winter. He opened Soccer Planet in October 2011.
“With the boards and the lights and the music and the environment ... we’re out here because it’s fun,” Berry said, adding he thinks there are more differences than similarities between indoor and outdoor soccer.
“I think one of the differences is people’s view of it: It’s not real soccer; it’s indoor soccer,” he said.
Which is not to say that indoor soccer players aren’t serious about their games, or that it isn’t valuable to those who primarily play outdoor soccer.
The similarities, Berry said, are the footwork skills and techniques in moving the ball, putting it in the goal and defending the goal.
The differences: There is no touch line indicating out of bounds. The only way the ball goes out of bounds is if it is kicked into the net above the boards.
There are rolling substitutions, as in hockey. There are six players per team on the field at once (seven for the younger leagues), versus 11 outdoors. There is no offside violation. And players can bank passes off the boards.
“What I’ve noticed is the kids more than the adults like to use the boards to their advantage,” Cronin said. “To kids, it’s like a game. How can I pass to a friend using the boards?”
Tye Wilson, 11, likes getting rebounds off the wall or using it to make a pass. And he mentioned a particularly important benefit for this time of year: “It’s warm.”
The differences, along with the smaller field, mean the play happens at a quicker pace, it rarely stops and players are involved in the action more often.
“A player really can’t hide. You don’t get much breathing time in indoor soccer,” Berry said. “Outdoors, if you’re a defender, if the ball is at the other end of the field, you could be not directly involved in play for two to three minutes.”
Outdoor play is more zonal, with the different positions playing in a certain formation and occupying a certain area of the field. Indoors, play is much more fluid — and with only five or six teammates on the field, players move around the field much more, Cronin said.
So, although the field is smaller than an outdoor pitch and the halves are shorter (22 minutes), players get a more rigorous workout. There are a lot of short, quick sprints, Love said.
“It’s a lot more tiring. It’s a different kind of running,” he said.
And a shot on goal, if it misses, bounces off the boards and play continues, rather than the ball going out of bounds.
“When you miss and hit it really far (outdoors), you have to go run for it, but in indoor, you don’t,” said 11-year-old Lawrence Taritsa. He added that play can move quickly from an attack to a counterattack by the opposing team because of the smaller field.
Cronin said the indoor game demands a greater grasp of fundamentals and can improve a player’s footwork and reaction time.
“I think technically, fundamentally, indoor demands a lot, just because there are only six players out there, so you get the ball a lot and have to make decisions,” he said. “You start to see things a little bit quicker, start to see the progression of passes.
Love agreed that playing indoors is a good way for players to continue to develop their games.
“The ball’s always on the ground at your feet, you’re getting a lot of touches, you’re making a lot of game decisions. What am I going to do with the ball?” he said.
Getting a lot of contact with the ball is a draw for kids, as well as scoring more and the proximity of their parents and other fans.
“I like the atmosphere of the indoor game. Everyone is on top of the field. ... It’s loud. It’s a more lively atmosphere,” Cronin said. “I think it brings more to the game when it has that kind of environment because people are involved in it. It’s right there; it’s exciting; it’s in your face.”
Photos: Top, St. Joseph Crushers' Eric Roth tries to work his way past Illinois Futbol Club's Allison Perez during a recent Sunday match in the under-10 co-rec league at Soccer Planet in Urbana. Middle: Illinois Futbol Club's Nate Bell (left) plays a ball off the wall in front of St. Joseph Crushers' Angie Chachine. Bottom: Fans and family watch the frenetic action through the mesh and glass walls surrounding the field. Photos by John Dixon/The News-Gazette
For more about indoor soccer, read Julie Wurth's story on the soccer moms league.