As soccer’s popularity has grown in recent years in the United States, new manifestations of that popularity have sprung up. From the proliferation of jerseys and scarves of far-flung clubs, to the rise in lifestyle brands that cater to the soccer fan, there are more ways to show one’s appreciation of the beautiful game than ever before.
But beyond the most popular realms of soccer culture, there are places like Urban Futsal LA, the multipurpose warehouse space in Los Angeles that has been serving as a futsal court, among other things, since September 2014.
John Lee, founder and owner of Urban Futsal LA, explained the many different communities served by the space in an exclusive interview this week with SoccerNation.com.
“We’ve been operating as an urban art gallery and venue space for three years,” Lee said. “…But in the last year, since September, in addition to operating as an urban art gallery and venue space, I opened Urban Futsal LA, that takes place inside the warehouse.”
“It’s open every evening and that’s for the adults. We have adult leagues running, we have co-ed and men’s leagues. And then we also have pickup, on Thursday nights.
“But then we do other soccer programming that’s not fixed in terms of schedule. So we have a lot of youth club teams renting our facility and doing practices there. We do youth clinics, we have tournaments. We do other things that are not regularly scheduled, that are not part of the adult side of things.”
Futsal, for those unfamiliar with the sport, is a five-a-side version of soccer played on a hard court with a slightly smaller ball. The variant, very popular with freestylers for the individual improvisation encouraged, has emerged as a way to play soccer in cities, as well as a way to train youth players in technical ability in tight spaces.
Lee says in addition to the youth outdoor teams that use Urban Futsal LA, local street soccer groups have also begun embracing the venue.
“There’s a local street soccer group that does training for kids and then they recently opened up an academy. And so they’re planning on holding their academy clinics, practices at our place as well. At the same time, we reached out to the AYSO coaches as well, and we’ve had in the past these mini-tournaments on Sundays in which coaches can bring out their teams,” he explained.
Although the futsal space has only been open little more than a year, it’s also becoming a destination for freestylers from around the world.
“We have a really good relationship with not only the local street soccer teams and the freestylers, but the international guys as well. People that are coming in from all over Europe and South America. Anytime they come to LA, and they’re wanting to do some pickup games, or do some shooting. For the most part, they reach out to each other, and then eventually end up at our place. These guys, they want to catch a game, or do some pickup, our location really appeals to them.
“We’ve been using that to further the branding and we’ve been posting a lot of online content, videos that we’ve been putting up on Facebook and YouTube and Instagram.”
Above all, Urban Futsal LA is carving out a unique niche of sorts in the Southern California soccer scene. A place for culture, art and soccer to collide. A place to both play the game and celebrate the larger art culture surrounding the sport and Los Angeles. And a location where players, admirers, artists and companies can come together in various ways, as recent events with MLS expansion team LAFC and connections with companies like Nike and adidas have demonstrated.
Bridging the various gaps on a sporting and cultural level is certainly not lost on Lee.
“We take elements of urban culture, including music, hip hop and graffiti art and we put it all together in kind of a unique end product. Because of that, there’s a lot of appeal.”