Fast-paced fun in the sun for international standout

Yuri Morales takes the pass with his back to the goal. He volleys the ball straight up in the air and as he flips backward, executes a perfect bicycle kick and a lethal strike to the corner of the opposing net.

A move like that would surely sting on the grass of a soccer field. But not on the sand, where Morales hops up, hugs his teammates and blows a little kiss to the camera.

The resident of San Francisco’s Cole Valley has been a force on the international beach soccer scene for the past six years. Playing for the U.S. National Team, Morales scored six goals in the opening three matches of last month’s Beach Soccer Worldwide Cancun Cup 2012.

Morales’ outstanding individual performance was overshadowed by the team’s losses to Spain, El Salvador and Mexico.

“The ultimate goal as a national team is to get to the World Cup,” said Morales, who was on the American squad when the U.S. last qualified in 2007.

To make the trip to Tahiti for the 2013 World Cup, the Americans must sharpen their talents in a sport that is growing in popularity worldwide. Organizing competitive matches and preparing players for international tournaments are the objectives of Morales and his recently developed San Francisco Beach Soccer Club.

“My goal is to create opportunities for myself and other professional beach soccer players to train on an ongoing basis, all year around,” said Morales, who may be found every Sunday either on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach or in San Luis Obispo, the halfway point for much of the national team contingent.

Morales, 30, was a star on grass long before he transitioned to sand. Recruited by the University of Massachusetts out of Harbor High in Santa Cruz, Morales played in the NCAA tournament after UMass won the Atlantic 10 tournament. The next year, his senior campaign, Morales was honored as team captain.

Four years of professional outdoor soccer followed, playing in Denmark and the U.S.

When Ronnie Silva got a call in 2006 from the coach of U.S. Beach Soccer, asking for a recommendation to replace an injured striker, Silva suggested Morales, his teammate from Harbor High and the Portland Timbers.

“Beach soccer is really, really fun to play; you’re always involved in making the play,” Morales said of the game that features five players per side. “It’s also fun to watch, it’s so fast-paced. You can score from anywhere.”

When he is away from the sand, Morales still remains close to soccer. As program director of America Scores Bay Area, he administers after-school soccer and literacy activities for elementary school students in San Francisco.

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