maccabiah american delegates 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Jared Bernstein can't help if he feels a little like Gordon Bombay.
Bernstein, a 29-year-old player and chairman of the US futsal team, spent a year-and-a-half searching for players, a coach and $45,000 to compile the first ever US Maccabiah futsal team.
And much like Bombay - the fictional hockey coach from the Mighty Ducks movies who had to string together a ragtag group for the US junior Olympics team - the Cleveland, Ohio native had to resort to players with talents outside of futsal, the indoor game that is similar to soccer but with four players and a goalkeeper on the indoor court at all times.
"The first time I felt absolutely fantastic was when I got on the airplane in Cleveland, flew to Philadelphia and to meet everybody that's when I knew for sure it was going to happen," he said. "Once we were in the air, I was set, I was good. I was so gung ho I tried getting a game going on the airplane. They were actually going to throw me off the airplane."
But no one threw Bernstein off his mission, and even an Olympic hurdler on a pogo stick would have had difficulty jumping all the obstacles in getting this team together.
It's bad enough that only seven people showed up to fill an 11-man roster in December tryouts.
It also didn't help that only a handful of the future team had played futsal before, as many of them initially wished to play soccer at the Maccabiah - the futsal team piggy-backed onto the soccer team's tryouts in Florida.
"It was pretty much like, 'You guys arrange whatever you need. Oh, you guys can use that little space on the grass there,'" said Sergio Rosenhek, US head futsal coach.
It was even worse that virtually everyone in the US delegation needed to be told that futsal is merely similar to soccer. Unlike soccer, the game is played on a solid surface - such as a basketball court - with four players and a goaltender on each side, unlimited substitutions, constant running and requires the ability to control the ball in tight spaces.
That lack of knowledge proved troublesome, as the team needed to practice as soon as they got to Israel. Arriving on July 3, the team had yet to play together. And when they got to their first practice in Israel, the unfamiliarity with each other and the game itself weren't the biggest issues.
"While we were practicing we were put on a concrete court, grass, turf. Finally one day - our last day of training - we actually got on a basketball court," Bernstein said.
"But I mean they didn't know what surface we were on even though we kept telling them. They just had no idea."
But people are learning about the US futsal team. Great Britain got a harsh introduction by losing to the Americans, 4-1, in a scrimmage. Uncle Sam then blew out Estonia, 11-3, in the team's first tournament game.
Still, it's all a learning experience, and the US has veteran teachers in its tournament group with Brazil and Argentina. Futsal originated in South America, and Brazil and Argentina are powerhouses. They showed this by beating the US 19-1 and 7-0, respectively.
"Playing Argentina [on Tuesday] was a huge lesson," Rosenhek said. "There's nothing I can say or show in practice that can teach them more than playing [Tuesday]."
And then there were the fans. As if the US team needed proof that Americans didn't know about futsal, they had to deal with the droves of drum beating, bongo banging, song shrieking South American fans while the US had a faithful following in about the single digits who offered their claps of encouragement.
"It adds to our underdog mentality," said Jeff Zimering, 20, of New Jersey. "I think we're going to thrive on that. We're going into every game thinking no one's giving us a chance, but to us, that pumps us up."
The Maccabiah isn't a one-time event for the US futsal team. US futsal leagues are underdeveloped - there is a national team with three Jewish members who could not play on the Maccabiah team - so the US Maccabiah team will head to international competitions. The team plans to enter the 2011 Pan-American Maccabi Games, the next European Maccabi Games and will be back in Israel for Maccabiah 19 in 2013.
And by then, they might be ready to teach other teams a lesson.
"We're going to try to keep it together," Bernstein said. "Some form of it, keep it rotating and just keep preparing ourselves so that we have played together, that we have a history together. And then when we come back to Israel in four years, we're going to be a force to be reckoned with."