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August 30th, 2006 Zach Dundas | Featured Stories
 

The Other Other Football

Paul Lomanto passes Latin America's indoor soccer craze, futsal, to Portland.

     
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First, there are the three shaggy-haired teenage dudes, barefoot on the plastic field, blasting the ball into the net, around the court and into each other. Then, there's the scale: a cavernous old tile factory by the Southeast Portland train tracks, transformed via the magic of fake grass into three indoor soccer courts.

And then, of course, there's the tattoo.

Still fresh, still bloody, the small, red-edged shield on Paul Lomanto's calf is emblazoned with "PORTLAND FUTSAL," the name of this new addition to Portland's soccer scene (check out the tat on the cover of this week's WW). The tat tells you a lot about Lomanto's zeal for his new venture, which hosts a grand-opening celebration tonight, Wednesday, Aug. 30.

As for the rest—the Argentina-born former Wieden & Kennedy ad man's ambition to introduce one of America's strongest soccer markets to an exciting alien breed of the game—Lomanto is eager to elaborate.

"I'd like to think I'm revolutionizing indoor soccer in America," Lomanto says. "I'm offering a model that doesn't quite exist. I want this to be a soccer mecca for Portland."

In a city with a ravenous appetite for the globe's football—witness the World Cup mobs in Pioneer Courthouse Square—thousands of people play the sport's indoor version. (An indoor team is smaller, cheaper and easier to wrangle than a traditional 11-player outdoor squad.) Local arenas like Portland Indoor Soccer and Beaverton's SoccerPlex host hundreds of adult teams, their courts booked solid late into the night. But that phenomenon centers on a peculiarly American game. Hockey-style walls allow caroming passes and—if things get ungentlemanly—defensive moves suspiciously similar to body checks.

That's not how the rest of the world does it. The world plays futsal: the much-different indoor game recognized and regulated by FIFA, soccer's global governing body. Invented in Uruguay in 1930, the game is lightning-fast, played by teams of five, using a small, hard, heavy, low-bouncing ball. With no walls corralling the field, futsal emphasizes control, balletic footwork and the kind of team play that, at its most telepathic, turns soccer into improv performance art.

Futsal crops up here and there in the U.S.; there's a national team, for example, and a popular new complex of courts in Los Angeles. That pales, however, compared with the game's growing importance to international soccer culture. In particular, top Brazilian players—mononymic megastars like Robinho and Ronaldhino who help set the game's gold standard—frequently credit their exuberant creativity to youths spent playing futsal.

"The Brazilians don't even let their kids play the big-field outdoor game until they're 13 or 14," Lomanto, 37, says. "There's not a lot of green open space in the slums of those huge cities. But it's also because playing in tighter spaces just makes you better."

Earlier this month, I saw Robinho play with his team, Spain's historic Real Madrid, in an exhibition game against America's own D.C. United. The 22-year-old Brazilian phenom gave the sold-out crowd in Seattle a demonstration of just what futsal can build. Every time he touched the ball, Robinho rode an invisible pneumatic rocket in a silky-smooth push toward goal, the ball fastened to his boot until he dispatched it with a flick or a backheel.

Robinho spent most of the game tangling with D.C.'s Ben Olsen, who's also a member of the U.S. national team. Olsen is a classic American soccer player: 100 percent heart, tenacious, fearless, kamikazelike in his fighting spirit, reasonably skilled.

The U.S. game—with its emphasis on discipline, fitness, making practice on time—produces a lot of Ben Olsens. And that's not bad. But to date, we have produced exactly zero players like Robinho, capable of temporarily warping time and space with blind passes and paranormal dribbling moves.

Lomanto thinks he knows why. In his old job, he ran the Nike Soccer account for W&K, traveling Latin America to shoot footage of Robinho and other young players who infuse the outdoor game with futsal's speed and intuition.

"Not to dog Ben Olsen, but I'd rather see us create Robinho," he says. "It's like in basketball—would you rather see slow, half-court offense, or would you rather see full-court run 'n' gun?"

And so, while the specifics of Portland Futsal are impressive enough—two full-sized courts; a cute "mini-court"; a mezzanine lounge outfitted with satellite screens, video games and multilingual soccer magazines; a beer garden next spring—the intangibles really get Paul Lomanto fired up. No sane man commemorates his new business with a tattoo unless he intends something special.

"We had our first rental last night—Asian guys, Hispanic guys, Anglos," he says. "They got so many touches on the ball, scored so many goals—they all had smiles on their faces. We had English, Spanish and Korean being spoken in here.

"I put chain link up around the fields because I wanted that gritty urban feel," Lomanto says, rattling a fence. "We'll have speakers up, we'll have samba playing. It's gonna give you a different feel than any other place."


Portland Futsal, 3401 SE 17th Ave., 381-3122. Grand opening 6-9 pm Wednesday, Aug. 30. Members of the Portland Timbers will scrimmage 6-7 pm. The facility will be accepting registration for men's, women's, co-ed and youth leagues, which begin play Sept. 5. For details, check out portlandfutsal.com.
 
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