South Whidbey High School seniors Julian Inches and Graham Colar represented the United States at the U-20 futsal World Cup in November in Colombia.
Futsal is the version of indoor soccer played by most of the world outside of the United States.
Indoor soccer in the U.S. is generally competed on iceless hockey rinks. Futsal, a five-on-five game, is played on a surface slightly larger than a basketball court. The goal is much smaller than an outdoor goal and the ball is smaller and harder than an outdoor soccer ball.
The sport is “massively popular” in South America and Europe, according to South Whidbey High School assistant soccer Brian Iblings.
Iblings is involved with the national governing body of futsal, the Association Mundial de Futsal, which is based out of Portland, and was asked to host a combine — one of six held throughout the United States — at the Langley Community Center. The combine served as a tryout for players hoping to make the U.S. U-20 national team.
Iblings encouraged Inches and Colar to participate. Twenty-five athletes from throughout the Northwest attended, and the two South Whidbey players caught the eye of association president Zane Cook and coach Miguel Sandz.
“It is unusual for something so big to come to Whidbey Island,” Inches said about the national tryout.
Colar and Inches said their participation in futsal came “by luck” because of Iblings’ connections with the national organization.
The U.S. team lost to world powers Paraguay, Brazil and Italy at the World Cup, but did defeat India. Paraguay finished first, Brazil third and Italy fifth in the tournament.
“We were in the hardest division,” Inches said. “We did what we could.”
“It was an amazing experience,” Colar said. “It was great experiencing different cultures, playing in front of 15,000 people and representing our country and families.”
Inches called the trip “life-changing” and now takes soccer “more seriously.”
“It definitely had an imprint on me,” he added. “It changed my way of thinking about where I can go in soccer; playing at that level made me think about my soccer career differently.”
Inches plans to play soccer at Linfield College (McMinnville, Ore.) next school year and then continue to compete at the highest level possible after that. He said futsal offers another future option, whether playing or coaching.
Colar was “very surprised” he made the team.
“The first time I played the sport was at the tryout,” he said. “I didn’t think they would actually take me because of my lack of experience.”
It was also Inches’ introduction to the sport.
“We were playing with some of the best around,” Inches said. “It was totally different, but my instincts kicked in.”
“We both received praises from the coaches,” he added.
After making the team, Colar and Inches spent three days training in Florida before heading to the World Cup at Valledupar, Colombia.
The level of competition at the tournament was “very high,” Colar said.
“All of he other players were older and professionals,” he added. “We were by far the youngest team.”
Inches noted that the Americans’ three days of training paled in comparison to that of the other teams, which had been together for years with the goal of winning the World Cup, which takes place every four years.
“We were kind of thrown to the dogs,” he said.
Colar said he always dreamed of competing for the United States on a national team but “didn’t know it would come this quickly.”
“There is talk” of getting the American team together for future tournaments, according to Inches, but it is unlikely because the members are spread throughout the country, making it difficult to train together.
The team included three players from Washington, three from Florida, two from Maryland, one from Virginia and one from Washington, D.C.
“I would love to do something like this again,” Colar said. “It was truly an honor.”