If you know the manual dexterity of soccer player Ronaldinho's feet, then you know the allure of futsal. The Brazilian star's arsenal of flicks and tricks was stocked during his early days on the sport's hard court. Imagine the spiderweb passing and did-you-see-that dribbling of FC Barcelona without the club's stringent self-possession—the name of this five-a-side game played with a little ball on a basketball court isn't a portmanteau of futbol and salsa, but it might as well be.
Since November 2011, futsal has had a Chicago home in an Edgewater warehouse that once hosted flea markets. The Chicago Futsal Academy (6122 N. Clark) has shacked up with a full-size futsal field and two smaller ones to host leagues for adults and kids. "In South America, futsal is used for training fundamentals," says Rosario Barreto, a program manager at Chicago Futsal. "Kids that are serious about soccer, they don't start outdoors until they have mastered futsal."
I wandered in to the facility on a Friday night—past the line of cars waiting to get in—and found a space teeming with mothers, fathers, and little kids distractedly watching teenagers nimbly slalom through three cones and slap a shot at goal in just four touches. A few of the kids showed real flair and one goalie was unbeatable. The hope is that, one day, these guys will rival the likes of Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo and other futsal graduates.