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Tampa Arsenal joins big boys of indoor game

The Tampa Arsenal is well stocked with Hillsborough County soccer's biggest soccer guns. The Arsenal, a Florida Youth Soccer Association team in the under-19 age group, is a collection of top talent from Gaither, Leto, Hillsborough, Chamberlain, Armwood and King high schools. And though the Arsenal plays both indoor and outdoor soccer, it won't be participating in any child's play this summer.

Tampa Indoor Soccer, a local competitive league, offers both high school and men's divisions. Fresh off a victory at the Lakeland Memorial outdoor tournament, and after winning four straight indoor sessions in the high school division this year, the Arsenal decided to move into the men's division.

"We wanted to move up for the competition," said Arsenal coach John Lewis, who has been coaching indoor soccer for 14 years. "We had won four eight-week sessions and felt like we needed to get away from that age bracket. The men's league is much more physically demanding."

Indeed. Indoor soccer is played on a field 190 feet by 90 feet, which makes a fast-paced game more resembling pinball than soccer. Players can use the walls for passing and shots, and they are sometimes bodychecked into the walls while going after loose balls.

Dimensions of the goal are the same as outdoor soccer, which usually makes for high scoring games. There are six players on the field at a time, including the goalkeeper.

Because of the smaller dimensions, hard walls surrounding the field and an artificial playing surface, many high school coaches fear injury and don't like their players participating in indoor soccer.

"I've taken my team over there and played indoor soccer in the past," Plant coach Bob Morgan said.

"Luckily, I've never had anyone seriously hurt, but I know it's very possible. The turf is so hard that it is a little more dangerous (than outdoor soccer). I didn't recommend for any of my kids to play indoor this summer."

But Lewis maintains it is important for players to play indoor soccer as well.

"Playing indoor helps set these kids apart," Lewis said. "The smaller field helps them with reaction time, it increases their speed, and helps keep them fit during the off season."

Anchored by Leto all-state selections Stan Hart and Andy Alfonso, the Arsenal is 2-2 in the men's division this session. Gaither's Mike Hernandez, Shane Tarbox, Alex Mynatt, Jason Lewis and Troy Arch also play for the team, while Joe Dailey, Don Metcalf and Stephen Chappell represent Chamberlain.

King's Shane Benton and Armwood's Scott Ware round out the Arsenal's lineup.

"It is quite a bit more dangerous playing indoor," Hillsborough's Cory Howell said. "The surface is very hard and there isn't much give in the turf. And since we've gone to the men's division, it's a lot tougher. Those guys aren't afraid to show you the boards (walls). You can't be 18 years old, and coming out here real cocky."

Chamberlain's Metcalf _ the Arsenal's future in the goal, according to Lewis _ says indoor soccer is more fun for him than outdoor.

"This game is much faster, which makes it a lot more interesting when you're in the goal," Metcalf said.

"There really aren't that many breaks before someone is taking a shot at the goal again. In the outdoor game, there's a lot of time to sit around in the goal and wait for the action to come at you. The indoor game is always going at 100 miles an hour."