Denison Cabral has never been one to back down from a challenge. Having arrived in the United States from Brazil in 1994, the Baltimore Blast’s all-time leading point scorer is adept at starting things from scratch. In the past two years, the diminutive five-time Major Indoor Soccer League All-Star has taken on one of his toughest challenges yet, building the popularity of soccer’s lesser-known cousin, futsal.
Denison Cabral has never been one to back down from a challenge. Having arrived in the United States from Brazil in 1994, the Baltimore Blast’s all-time leading point scorer is adept at starting things from scratch.
In the past two years, the diminutive five-time Major Indoor Soccer League All-Star has taken on one of his toughest challenges yet, building the popularity of soccer’s lesser-known cousin, futsal.
|Four Denison Cabral Futsal Academy teams finished in the top three of their age groups in July's Futsal National Championship.|
(Denison Cabral Futsal Academy)
Extremely popular in many parts of the world, futsal is an indoor, faster-paced version of soccer. The five-on-five matches are played on courts similar to those used for basketball. Instead of throw-ins there are kick-ins, and unlike the indoor game played by the Blast, there are out-of-bounds lines, so players are unable to rely on walls to save any errant passes or shots. These rules form a sport that stresses a player’s touch and overall confidence on the ball, as opposed to pure athletic ability.
Hoping to capitalize on the high-scoring nature of the sport, Cabral formed the Denison Cabral Futsal Academy (DCFA) in 2007. Based out of the Maryland SportsPlex in Millersville, of which Cabral is part owner, DCFA houses competitive club teams for boys and girls ages 10-19.
“Everywhere all over the world they play futsal,” Cabral said. “I played futsal my entire life before coming to America to play indoor. Before, there were tournaments to participate in but not too many real leagues.”
Guided by his many years of futsal experience, Cabral did not take long to have his teams reach a level of success to which he is accustomed.
During July’s Futsal National Championship, played at the Baltimore Convention Center, four DCFA teams finished in the top three of their age groups. The girls under-12 team, DCFA Flamengo F.C., took home the club’s only gold medal of the competition.
While most American sports fans are unfamiliar with futsal, Cabral is not surprised by the growing popularity of the sport.
“It’s unbelievable to see how much people like the game,” he said. “It takes one time to play. You play it maybe one season and then we have kids in our club who prefer to play year-round, who would even quit playing outdoor.”
According to Cabral, the key to futsal’s newfound success in the area is how it keeps each player in the middle of the action. “In outdoor, with 11 players, you can be 50, 60, 80 yards away from play … you’re not really involved," Cabral said. "In futsal, you’re more involved. At any time you can get a shot, at any time you can block a shot, at any time the ball is close to your feet.”
With such close quarters, players must learn to handle the ball with care and confidence.
“You get a better touch, you get better control,” Cabral said. “You see the top players in the world outdoors -- Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka, [Landon] Donovan -- all of them have futsal backgrounds. Those guys played futsal when they were younger, and you see the difference in foot skills.”
Apart from the immediate success of DCFA, Cabral, who became an American citizen last year, has used futsal to elevate his own career. In September and October, he will represent the United States in the FIFA Futsal World Cup, held in his home country of Brazil.
“I was born in Brazil but today, with the citizenship, I’m an American, and I play for the futsal national team and I serve as the captain,” he said. “That’s a dream, that’s how far you can go.”
Cabral hopes the young members of DCFA will share his dream of international success. “I know all of our kids think that one day they can be the one playing for the national team," Cabral said. "And why not?”