Tom Milligan is among those who have a theory on how to increase Canada’s ranking in soccer, the world’s most popular sport.
There are four ways to play the game — from the slowest surface, sand, to the fastest, futsal flooring. In between are artificial turf and grass.
“Look at a country like Brazil,” said Milligan, who along with his wife Heather owns and operates the Oakville Futsal Club (OFC) on Wallace Road. “They are dominating the speed (thinking) and slowness (technical). You bring it to the middle and what happens? Everything becomes simple for them.”
The two largest soccer organizations in North America in terms of participation — the Oakville Soccer Club and the Burlington Youth Soccer Club — seem to agree with Milligan. They’re the two main tenants Milligan has at his impressive facility, which houses a totally padded state-of-the-art futsal field.
Futsal is a five-on-five version of soccer played on a smaller field — indoor or out — that forces a player to think and react quickly. A futsal ball, heavier than a regular soccer ball, has little bounce on the futsal flooring. Most players love the constant intensity it provides, forcing both the possessor of the ball and defenders to react in a flash.
“(Canada) has the athletes, we have the participation, but we haven’t dominated the extremities,” says Milligan. “It’s not just hopping on a field and practising more, (it’s) getting your brain thinking different aspects of play.”
Not only has Milligan’s facility drawn the area’s two biggest clubs, but it is renting field time to an Oakville outlet of the largest private soccer club in North America, Rush Academy based in Colorado. Other groups such as Future Girls Oakville also have time booked. Milligan says running the place is “the opposite of a 9-to-5 job.”
The complaint Milligan hears most is that he should have five or six of the fields in operation.
“We’ve got to think of the business aspect,” he laughed. “On Oct. 15 we’ll be 90 per cent of capacity. That’s a good business story.”
Part of the appeal of the place is the set-up, which Milligan designed with coaches and players in mind.
“Coaches are super happy,” he says. “They just stand up there (at the front of the field) with their notes. The parents are away from the field (there are no sidelines).”
Eddy Berdusco, a former professional futsal player in Europe who now coaches OSC’s under-8 boys’ team, loves the facility.
“It has proper futsal nets and flooring which is safe for the kids,” he says. “They’re not afraid of hurting themselves with all the padding. It’s such a fast game, you have to be able to control the ball and make quick decisions.”
Milligan hasn’t forgotten about the parents, though.
He has a glassed-off seating section and a large flat-screen television where parents can watch their kids’ practice remotely or turn on regular TV to relax after a busy day.
Rules mirror regular soccer but there are kick-ins instead of throw-ins and, of course, the number of players is five-on-five plus a goalie, and sometimes four-on-four for older, more talented teams.
Regular futsal has space on the sidelines but this facility’s dimensions made that impossible. The sideline walls, therefore, are inbounds but not the endzone walls.
One other house rule is more personal. Milligan, who has suffered numerous concussions while playing amateur soccer and hockey, does not allow heading the ball in his facility.
“It’s not just for insurance purposes,” says Milligan, who has kids three, six and nine years of age. “I can see the day coming when headers are banned unless you’re at the professional level. In the U.S., there are no headers (in games) up to age 14.”
While there are no imminent plans to build another facility, Milligan has purchased an adjoining unit, which he will convert to a practice facility to complement the futsal field.
Kevin Nagel is the sports editor of the Burlington Post and the Oakville Beaver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter and the Burlington Post on Facebook