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East Bay Boys Seek Indoor Soccer National Title - CBS 5
Tuesday, 06 July 2010 21:24
futsalwireCBS 5Over the last year and a half, the boys have won a series of local and regional futsal tournaments to qualify to play at the US Futsal Federation National ...

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 Jul 6, 2010 11:54 pm US/Pacific East Bay Boys Seek Indoor Soccer National Title RICHMOND (CBS 5 / BCN) ? Click to enlarge1 of 1 The Eagles, a futsol team representing East Bay communities, will compete for the national championship in Long Beach CBS Close numSlides of totalImages World Cup soccer excitement may be reaching a fever pitch.

But for 18 boys from the Bay Area, the games have not yet begun.

The Eagles, a soccer team of 13- and 14-year-old boys from the East Bay, are headed down to Long Beach Wednesday to compete in a national championship for an indoor form of the game known as futsal.

Most of the boys on the Eagles team come from disadvantaged, low-income families and hail from cities including Richmond, San Pablo, Oakland and Hayward.

Over the last year and a half, the boys have won a series of local and regional futsal tournaments to qualify to play at the U.S.

Futsal Federation National Championships.

Futsal is an indoor form of soccer played on a basketball court.

To prepare for the upcoming matches, the team's head coach Mariano Gil said the boys have been training hard; for the past two weeks, the boys have been practicing outside in Richmond two hours a day, except on weekends, and haven't missed a single practice.

"The chemistry that the kids have makes it that they want to be there," Gil said.

The boys have worked equally hard in the classroom, Gil said, because to play on the team, they have to maintain good grades.

"They're good kids, they're disciplined," Gil said over the phone.

"But they've got to have good grades, too." Gil, who has coached the team based out of the Richmond Futsal Academy for the past five years, said that when he asks the boys to turn in their report cards, he stresses the importance of succeeding in school.

"There's always a couple of kids put on probation, but then I tell them, 'This is for real.

Next time you bring grades like this you won't be able to play,'" he said.

Futsal is typically played with five players, one of whom is a goalie, with about eight players on the roster.

Gil said the 18 boys will compete on two separate teams in the competition.

In addition to regular league play, the boys have honed their skills and gained confidence by competing in approximately 15 tournaments per year, said Gabriel Hernandez, the father of one of the players.

Because the teams are so small, all players have to "step up" and play at the level of the team's best players, said Hernandez, who echoed Gil's observations that the demanding structure of soccer has carried over into the boys' daily lives.

"They hear about bad things that happen in the Richmond, and they couldn't imagine doing something like that," Hernandez said.

"They want people to know that there's good kids, too." Hernandez' 14-year-old son, Tlaca, exemplifies how the game has been a positive influence in the boys' lives, he said.

In 2003, when he was 7 years old, Tlaca raised more than $1,000 to help the children of a woman shot to death in a confrontation with San Jose police.

Three years later, Tlaca was again inspired to give back to a grieving community when he and his friends raised almost $2,500 to help pay for the funeral of family friend slain in a gang-related shooting.

Hernandez paused and became emotional when he spoke of "the boys that didn't make it" and were drawn in by the pull of the gang-dominated streets.

He said he hopes the team will be a role model in the community.

"When you have this group of boys that are doing well, it's good," he said.

"Then the kids in that area can look up to something like that, that they can be that same thing." The Eagles will face two out-of-state teams in their first matches on Thursday.

"I don't think they're sleeping, they're anxious and nervous," Hernandez said.

"There's all the butterflies, and sort of a calm, too." (? CBS Broadcasting Inc.