PFL

Exclusive: Pro Futsal League looks to break into U.S. market

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There’s been no hiding the growth of soccer in the United States over the past two decades-plus. Major League Soccer has developed into an impressive entity, continually growing and attracting some of the world’s greatest talents, including David Villa and Kaká.

[ MORE: MLS expansion looking at 28 teams, says Don Garber ]

In a similar path to success, futsal — a newer, quicker variation of soccer — is seeking its opportunity to crack the U.S. soccer market with the introduction of the Pro Futsal League.

For those that may not be familiar with the game, futsal is played with five players a side on an indoor surface typically about the size of a basketball court.

Professional Futsal League game between USA and Spain in at Dr. Pepper Stars Center in Frisco, Texas, Saturday, March 14, 2015. MIKE STONE
Professional Futsal League game between USA and Spain in at Dr. Pepper Stars Center in Frisco, Texas, Saturday, March 14, 2015. PFL Commissioner Keith Tozer pictured (right). PHOTO CREDIT: MIKE STONE

A few other noted differences between soccer and futsal include — unlimited on-the-fly substitutions (like in hockey), accumulated fouls penalty shot (which results after a team concedes six fouls in a half) and kick-ins (replacing a traditional throw-in).

I recently had the opportunity to discuss Pro Futsal League with some of the organization’s executives, including Michael Hitchcock (CEO), Keith Tozer (PFL Commissioner), Rob Andrews (President of International Affairs) and Christie Nelson (Executive Director).

The league has begun its development phases and will officially launch its exhibition season in 2017. PFL — which is set to be comprised of 16 teams in various large markets across the United States — will kick off its inaugural season in 2018.

The excitement surrounding the league is unquestioned and unique because of the entities that PFL is reportedly aligning itself with. Back in February, the Dallas Morning News cited sources saying that PFL will be working closely with renowned clubs like Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Boca Juniors and Corinthians, who will take on ownership stakes.

Here’s my full conversation with PFL’s executives:

Baseball has taken some heat over recent years about the speed of play in which the game is played. Futsal is a very fast-paced game, almost similar to basketball or hockey. What was it about the sport that intrigued you when starting PFL?

Christie Nelson, Executive Director: I was introduced to futsal almost two years ago in Milwaukee. At the time, Keith Tozer, who is now the Commissioner of the PFL and currently the U.S. Futsal National Team Coach, was hosting the France Futsal National Team in a friendly. Within minutes of the match, I fell in love with the high-octane sport. Coming from a basketball background, I was attracted to the 5-on-5 aspect and the quick pace of the game. My immediate thought was why haven’t I heard of futsal, and why is there not a professional league in North America? It is perfect for the American eye and combines the best components of hockey, basketball, and soccer.

As a sport that is still growing, how important do you feel it is to get youths involved in the game?

Christie Nelson, Executive Director: Involving children in the growth of futsal is imperative. The younger generation is the future of the sport. Children playing in youth leagues now have the opportunity to aspire to be professional futsal athletes and will also be a part of the fanbase attending matches.

Michael Hitchcock, CEO: Futsal is one way to reach into urban areas, and the PFL is committed to supporting the growth of the game in neighborhoods across North America.

Italy, but more so Spain and Brazil have been powerhouses on the international futsal stage. How does the United States reach the heights of success futsal nations such as those have experienced?

Rob Andrews, President of International Affairs: The PFL has been collecting and observing the best practices from every major futsal nation in preparation for the launch of the PFL. Building futsal in the the U.S. is crucial to members of the PFL, and we see the opportunity to reach the same heights and successes by having the best brands and premier players in the top markets in North America.

There has been discussions about the U.S. pursuing a bid to host the 2020 Futsal World Cup. We’ve seen a rise in American soccer its popularity since hosting the 1994 World Cup. How important is it for the U.S. to push for this opportunity in four years?

Michael Hitchcock, CEO: The MLS grew into what it is today with the support of U.S. Soccer over the past two decades. We are hoping to follow a similar path in the development of the PFL.

How many teams are confirmed for PFL’s launch in 2017? 2018?

Michael Hitchcock, CEO: The PFL will kick off the exhibition season in 2017 and begin the inaugural season in 2018. Sixteen teams are confirmed in NBA and NFL major markets.

What kind of allocation process does the league have or will it have in place to determine rosters moving forward? Will there be a salary cap?

Keith Tozer, PFL Commissioner: The PFL will have a draft similar to the NBA. Details regarding roster creation will be voted on by owners at the next owners meeting and will be released in the future. Players can submit a player registration form on our website to be entered into the PFL database to receive future updates and information: http://professionalfutsal.com/player-registration-form/

What does it say about the league right off the bat that you’re partnering with teams like Barcelona and Boca Juniors, given their respective histories?

Rob Andrews, President of International Affairs: At this time we cannot comment on the brands we are working with. However, being able to start a league with such iconic global brands would be unprecedented.

We’ve seen other industries in the United States attempt variations of a sport before. Arena Football is something that has tried to compete with the NFL for several years now, but has certainly been put on the back-burner by fans. What challenges does your league face in trying to cultivate a solid fan base?

Rob Andrews, President of International Affairs: This is not an American invented sport. Futsal has an almost 100 year history, with multiple countries celebrating 25 years of professional league play.

Christie Nelson, Executive Director: Currently, North America is the only continent that does not support a professional futsal league; it couldn’t be a more perfect time to start one.

There’s been a lot of talk in the past about the disconnect between soccer and futsal. Do you feel the league has an obligation to kind of tie the two together in order to bring fans to pay attention to both?

Rob Andrews, President of International Affairs: It is no secret that some of the greatest players in the world credit futsal for their development. Many people don’t know, however, that Kobe Bryant also grew up playing 5-a-side in Italy and credits it for his development into one of the greatest in NBA history.

Keith Tozer, PFL Commissioner: Playing futsal naturally develops quicker decision making, better spacial awareness, and faster acceleration that will benefit any athlete who wants to excel in any sport. Our goal with the PFL is to offer the opportunity to those players who want to stay with futsal to do so at a professional level.

What were your takeaways from the exhibitions that the league had in 2015? Additionally, how important was it to have a player like Falcao involved?

Michael Hitchcock, CEO: Since the PFL International Challenge last March, the response has been huge both internationally and domestically. After breaking the North American record in attendance for a futsal match, we know there is a market for futsal here in the USA. We have come a long way since then and look forward to what the future holds.

Christie Nelson, Executive Director: The response to having Falcão last year was so great that he will be returning for the PFL’s largest event of 2016. Details are to come mid-April about the event.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Wayne Rooney to captain England in farewell

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Wayne Rooney will captain England in his farewell game against the U.S. national team on Thursday.

[ MORE: Pulisic ready to lead USMNT ]  

Rooney, 33, will win his 120th and final Three Lions cap at Wembley against the USMNT, with the English FA inviting the D.C. United striker back to play in one last game after he retire from the international game in August 2017.

Many have questioned the decision for Rooney to return but England manager Gareth Southgate confirmed he will captain the team when he comes on as a second half sub against the USMNT and that the entire squad felt “it is a fitting tribute” for Rooney.

[ MORE: USMNT’s star trio align at Wembley

England’s all-time leading goalscorer will also wear his famous number 10 jersey, at the request of the playing squad.

The friendly against the U.S. has been named the “Wayne Rooney Foundation International” and Fabian Delph, who will captain England at the start of the game, confirmed he will hand the armband to Rooney and that the players will give him a guard of honor when he comes onto the pitch.

It is sure to be an emotional night for Rooney and his family on Thursday and his farewell game will be a fitting tribute to his 13-year England career.

USA’s star trio align for USMNT v England

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LONDON — Christian Pulisic. Weston McKennie. Tyler Adams.

Those three U.S. national team players are 20, 20 and 19 years old respectively and after coming through the youth ranks together, the USA’s game at Wembley against England on Thursday is set to be the first time the trio will play together for the senior national team.

[ MORE: Pulisic ready to lead USMNT ] 

The future of the USMNT lies in their hands and all three are eager to lead the U.S. moving forward as they’ve been fast-tracked into the squad after the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” Pulisic said. “I mean, I have played with so many of these guys before so it doesn’t even feel that unnatural. It’s just going to be a normal game for us. It’s great to have these guys together and we are looking forward it.”

And all three will soon be playing in the Bundesliga and testing themselves at the highest level in Europe.

Pulisic is already a star at Borussia Dortmund who top the German league, McKennie is carving out a wonderful career for himself at giants Schalke and Adams is expected to join RB Leipzig from the New York Red Bulls in the January transfer window.

With their career paths all taking a similar trajectory, McKennie believes they can look back on lessons they’ve learned together in their days with the U.S. youth national teams.

“It is something we’ve talked about and we’ve all looked forward to it,” McKennie added. “It is always nice to play with people you know and people you are familiar with and have been playing with since you were 15 years old. If we look at the journey we went through, Tyler and I didn’t go through the journey Christian did, but back in residency days Tyler and I shared some moments and it is always nice to step on the field together.”

After missing the friendly against Bolivia in May, where Pulisic and McKennie played, Adams is eager to get the band back together too.

“It hasn’t happened quite yet and everyone is talking about it a little bit, we are excited to play together. We haven’t played together in a while now,” Adams smiled. “They played together in the Bolivia game and they did well, so it is going to be exciting to step out on the field with them.”

When the trio — who are all expected to start at Wembley on Thursday — do step onto the field, they are not youngsters who will be ushered into the game.

They are expected to lead the USMNT against England, with McKennie and Adams likely to play in central midfield and Pulisic playing as a no.10 or off the flank.

At 20 years of age both Pulisic and McKennie realize that with their already strong careers in Germany’s top-flight they’ve been thrust into leadership roles extremely early on in their international careers.

They are ready to embrace it.

“Leadership really doesn’t have anything to do with age, I don’t think,” McKennie said. “Leadership is how you carry yourself on and off the field and how you represent yourself on the field also. You could be quiet off the field and on the field you could be bossing people around and giving commands and saying ‘here, left, right, that way’ and I guess the way you present yourself on the field, people that are watching the game can tell if you’re a leader or not. I think I am a person that can be a leader and Christian is also a person that has a leadership role. We have many guys on this team that vibe off each other and we listen to. It is a big opportunity for us to take on and I think we are doing a good job of it.”

Their opponents on Thursday, England, have been through a monumental squad rebuild of their own in recent months under Gareth Southgate. That resulted in a run to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and a fourth-place finish. Adams believes the USMNT can look to the Three Lions for inspiration between now and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“It is a similar blueprint, for sure, you see a lot of young guys doing well and a lot of young players in England doing well in Germany and vice versa,” Adams said. “A lot of guys are getting opportunities now and that is the same as we want to do. The more experiences we have in big games like this, the better it will be for the future.”

In terms of Adams following his buddies to the Bundesliga, the New York Red Bulls star was coy on any upcoming move but he is looking forward to stepping up to the next level with his close friends.

“Anytime you can challenge yourself against the best players in the world and showcase yourself and your talent, whoever could be watching, it is exciting,” Adams said. “For me, I am focused on what I’m doing right now with MLS and obviously we are at an important part of the season. After that, should be exciting. I am excited for it.”

Everyone connected with the USMNT is excited to watch Adams, McKennie in Pulisic in action together for the full national team.

Premier League player Power Rankings: Week 12

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Our latest batch of Premier League player Power Rankings are here, as we’ve had a little time to digest the displays from last weekend over the early stages of the international break.

[ MORE: Full Power Rankings archive ]

There are plenty of new entries at the top of our rankings due to some big weeks for players finding their feet with new clubs.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League and based on them actually playing in the previous Matchweek. If they didn’t play due to injury or suspension, they aren’t going to make this list. Simple.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


  1. Raheem Sterling (Man City – Even
  2. Xherdan Shaqiri (Liverpool) – New entry
  3. Fernandinho (Man City) – Up 13
  4. Salomon Rondon (Newcastle United) – New entry
  5. Bernd Leno (Arsenal) – New entry
  6. David Silva (Man City) – Up 1
  7. John Stones (Man City) – New entry
  8. Bernardo Silva (Man City) – Up 12
  9. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Up 5
  10. Sergio Aguero (Man City) – Up 1
  11. Lucas Torreira (Arsenal) – Down 6
  12. Anthony Martial (Man United) – Down 10
  13. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 4
  14. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) – Down 2
  15. Erik Lamela (Tottenham) – Down 2
  16. Felipe Anderson (West Ham) – Down 11
  17. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – New entry
  18. Sol Bamba (Cardiff City) – New entry
  19. Lewis Dunk (Brighton) – New entry
  20. Callum Paterson (Cardiff City) – New entry

USMNT, Wigan defender Robinson out injured

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U.S. left back Antonee Robinson will miss Thursday’s exhibition at England and next week’s match against Italy after spraining his right ankle in training, an injury expected to sideline him for four weeks.

[ MORE: Pulisic ready to lead USMNT

The 21-year-old defender was hurt during training on Tuesday, the U.S. Soccer Federation said.

Robinson plays for Wigan in England’s second-tier League Championship. He made his U.S. debut in May and has six international appearances.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports