By Ryan Maquiñana
Special to S.F. Examiner
The National League of Professional Futsal is expanding its reach to the West Coast, with one of its new franchises slated to play in San Francisco.
Bay City Futsal Club has joined the league as part of a newly constructed Western Conference, which is expected to launch in mid-January.
“We’re really excited to have the chance to grow the game here in my hometown,” said Antonio Medina, who will take on the position of NLPF Western Conference Director in addition to his current role running the Bay City franchise.
Established in 2016, the NLPF will feature at least nine teams on opposite coasts. Thanks to recent expansion, the Eastern Conference franchises in Toronto, Boston, Maryland, New Jersey, and Connecticut will have the opportunity to play for a true national championship against their counterparts west of the Mississippi.
Local teams involved include the Bay City FC, Di Bufala SC (also based in S.F.), Bay Area FC of Burlingame, and longtime powerhouse San Jose Legends, who are led by respected futsal fixture Mario Gonzalez. Other franchises remain in talks and could be announced later, according to Medina.
“On a global stage, futsal has gained a lot of momentum,” Medina said. “It’s recognized by FIFA and you even see established clubs like FC Barcelona having their own futsal teams at the club level. The interest is there both nationally and internationally, and we see the potential here in the United States.”
Those unacquainted with futsal might misconstrue the sport as a form of indoor soccer. However, aside from the main objective of kicking the ball through the net, the parallels stop there.
Indoor soccer is played on an enclosed artificial turf and is played in a 7-on-7 format. Futsal is played five to a side, there are no walls, the ball is smaller and the surface is usually wood, making the game accessible to those with basketball gym space. As a result, Bay City looks to play its inaugural home season at The Academy in San Francisco.
“Even the shoes you wear are different,” Medina said. “There are a lot of details that some will argue aren’t compatible with the skills you need for grass soccer, but I disagree. I think a good futsal player actually becomes a lot better on the ball, especially since with the smaller field, you really can’t hide the way you can with a standard 11-on-11 game or 7-on-7. The truth comes out.”
Several of Medina’s former futsal players at Bay City have gone on to play NCAA grass soccer, and some have even played professionally in Mexico. His own son Adrian, a freshman midfielder at San Francisco State, was recently the only high school player in the 74-team USL League Two when the San Francisco Glens signed him last summer.
“Do I see it as vindication that futsal helps a player’s overall soccer development?” Medina asked. “Yeah, I think so. The proof is there.”
Medina has become one of the voices of the game in America, especially within California. Growing up in the Mission, he was a former star youth player in traditional soccer, and was once featured in U.S. Soccer’s Olympic Development Program. Despite his progress in the conventional sport, he fell in love with futsal when introduced to the game by coach Nelson Cabrera at age 14.
With his playing days over, Medina has built Bay City into one of the premier youth programs on the West Coast, capturing several national titles and even guiding the U.S. Futsal Under-14 National Team to a World Championship in Spain two years ago. Now he embraces the challenge of turning Bay City into something special on the professional level.
“I’ve seen how successful the pro league is in Spain, and if we grow the fan base right, I think we can do that here,” Medina said. “Local players here need to know that there are other roads to become a professional soccer player, and we hope to provide that with this league.”