When Georgi Hristov retired from professional soccer in January, he was the Rowdies’ all-time career goals leader with 60. Since the Rowdies are a second-division team where players are either moving up or down, that is a record that may stand for a long time.
But Hristov, 34, knew he wasn’t done with soccer completely. As he contemplated retirement, he started thinking about what he might do next. He decided one thing he wanted to do was start a Futsal league for youth players in Tampa Bay.
One of the obstacles he faced was expaling to locals just what Futsal is. For the record, it is an indoor game played on a hard surface like a basketball court. There are five players on each team (including a goalie) and out-of-bounds lines. The goals are smaller than in outdoor soccer. And it is played with a special ball that has less bounce than a standard soccer ball.
“When I was growing up this is what we played in the winter,” said Hristov, who grew up in Bulgaria. “Here, it is perfect for the summer because it’s too hot to be outside too long. It doesn’t get in the way of club soccer and we only play on Sundays. I just think this is something that has been missing in this area.”
Since even before his retirement, Hristov was planning his summer Futsal league. He has secured six sites in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area and three in Tampa. His vision is to have 160 boys and girls teams ranging from under-9 to U19, although he admits that might be too ambitious for the first year.
The league will run from June 9-July 28, which is generally the time when club soccer slows down. Games will be played only on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Hristov credits Futsal for giving him goal-scoring skills.
“You are always touching the ball,” he said. “You are always engaged, thinking about what you are going to do with the ball. It teaches creativity and ball skills.”
Throughout the winter and spring Hristov has tried to spread the gospel of Futsal. He has contacted most of the area club soccer programs. He said many are still a bit skeptical, but they at least listened to his idea.
He already has several teams signed up, but there is still plenty of room to grow.
He doesn’t expect, nor does he want, Futsal to be a year-round, serious league. He said it is simply a chance to stay sharp between seasons and have fun doing it.
“I want them to be soccer players first,” Hristov said. “This is just a tool that helps them sharpen their skills.”
Contact Rodney Page at [email protected]. Follow @RodneyHomeTeam.
Tampa Bay Premier Futsal League
Season: June 8-July 28.
Area sites: J.W. Cate Recreation Center (St. Petersburg), Gladden Park Rec Center (St. Petersburg), Walter Fuller Rec Center (St. Petersburg), Roberts Rec Center (St. Petersburg), Morningside Red Complex (Clearwater), Ross Norton Rec Center (Clearwater), Davidsen Middle School (Tampa), Ben Hill Middle School (Tampa), Paul R. Smith Middle School (Tampa).
Cost: $995 per team (8-10 players per team). $125 as an individual player.
More info: tbpremierfutsal.com