Arena soccer, or Indoor Soccer, as it is referred to, is a uniquely North American tradition. It holds a fond place in the hearts of many who grew up playing in these facilities. With its oblong shape and curved walls, this version of indoor soccer is something you rarely find anywhere else in the world—and there’s a reason for that.
Indoor soccer is a byproduct of the NHL in the United States. That’s right, hockey. As the NHL got bigger in the U.S., so did the size of our ice rinks, and many of the older, smaller ones were left behind to decay. And thus indoor soccer was born. “Enterprising sports-minded individuals said, ‘Hey man, let’s just take the ice out and put some turf down and we can play soccer inside,’” said Keith Matney, a seasoned consultant for futsal and indoor soccer facilities.
Abandoned ice rinks turned into indoor soccer fields giving individuals the opportunity to play year-round, particularly in states with cold and rainy winter seasons. Over the years, 6v6 leagues begin to proliferate—both professional and recreational—making arenas the go-to for indoor soccer options. It’s a fun and familiar format for many Americans. But experts across the field agree that arenas aren’t exactly beneficial for players, nor are they furthering our soccer culture as a whole.
“The problem was, with the bigger fields and with the younger kids, they could do exactly what we were doing wrong back in the ‘70s,” explained Matney. “They could just “kick & run” and they didn’t have to skillfully touch the ball … It was who was faster, and who could run with the ball the longest. So arena just played into that philosophy—you don’t really need skill, you just need athleticism.”
Although indoor soccer facilities gave us some undeniable benefits, like playing year-round, gathering friends and family, and allowing recreational players to get more involved in the sport, ultimately they created a more chaotic version of the game and encouraged players to develop bad habits. This is why we created USP’s 5-a-side fields. Our fields offer a far more effective indoor game that mirrors the format of futsal—one of the most commonly played versions of soccer around the world, and an essential development tool in all top soccer nations.
Rather than the awkward 6v6 format, our 5-a-side fields enable players to develop the right way. (There’s a reason Christian Pulisic’s dad opened a futsal facility for his son and not an indoor soccer center). Through 5-a-side, players learn dynamic movement off the ball, impeccable foot skills and technique, and instinctive decision-making. USP 5-a-side fields are also versatile and serve all ages and skill levels. Whether the goal is to get in some cardio with your friends or become a world-class soccer player, we have designed a product that offers the best in safety, fun, and player development.
So why aren’t there more 5-a-side facilities in the U.S.? “If you’ve been building buggy whips for buggies your entire career, and that’s your base, but then the car comes around, it’s hard to switch unless you have the free thinkers,” said Matney, who has helped convert many an arena into a futsal or 5-a-side field.
Education and a shift in mentality are necessary for facility operators and the American soccer community as a whole to evolve and advance. As younger generations have become more knowledgeable about the game, the market has drastically changed to demand a more efficient, modern version of indoor soccer. Unsurprisingly, more and more facilities are offering futsal and 5-a-side, leaving indoor soccer behind. Facility operators now more than ever need to be strategic about what kind of fields they’re going to invest in, and what product will best serve a wide-ranging clientele.