Gonzalez's Argentinian experience helping the American renaissance
Luciano Gonzalez is one of the few US squad members with futsal experience
Born in the USA, he recently faced the country of his parents’ birth
His aim is to use his experience for the development of US futsal
Although it was an Argentinian, Juan Carlos Ceriani, who invented futsal in Uruguay in the 1930s, the idea came to him during the time he spent at the International YMCA Training School at Springfield College. The origins of the sport therefore can be found in a gymnasium in the USA where James Naismith also invented basketball – apparently because too many windows were getting broken during indoor football matches.
As is often the case with old legends, it is impossible to know for sure how much truth they contain, however tempting it may be to believe them chapter and verse. And if we are to take at face value this particular story, then the next question must be why futsal has yet to take off in the USA almost a century later. The national team was even disbanded for a while after they failed to make it through qualifying for the FIFA Futsal World Cup™ in 2016.
The US federation did not reconstitute the squad until 2019, when they brought in Dusan Jakica to head the national team and the development programme. The Serb brought with him plenty of fresh thinking, including the idea of calling up Luciano Gonzalez, born in New Jersey of Argentinian parents, who grew up in Argentina and plays in Italy in one of the toughest championships in the world.
Suffice to say that he was the main addition to a team struggling to establish itself on the international futsal stage. "What the coach wants from me and why he asked me to join the team was to bring some of my experience on board," said Lucho, as he is known, to FIFA.com. "We’ve got young guys who don’t play futsal as such but who play indoor soccer, which is a little different. The coach wants me to bring in a sense of organisation and tactical discipline, as well as experience."
Discipline, willingness and heart
Judging by Gonzalez’s attitude, he is taking his mission very seriously. He dictates the tempo, positions his team-mates, and dishes out advice and encouragement whenever he is out on the court or the sidelines. Moreover, he was the author of both of USA’s goals thus far at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™, against IR Iran, who finished third last time out.
Gonzalez and his team-mates may have lost the match 4-2 but they can be proud of their performance, which will have gone some way to restoring confidence after a crushing (11-0) defeat at the hands of defending champions Argentina in the opener.
"I’ve tried to set an example and I was lucky enough to score, which makes me very proud, but we all played a good match," said the man who plies his trade at club level with Citta di Massa. "We all tried to play, construct our moves and implement what we’d worked on, and we came close to pulling off quite a result. If we have discipline, willingness and heart, we can hold our own against the big teams. And in any case we came out of it a lot better than we did in the match against Argentina. That was tough to come to terms with. They had possession for 38 minutes, and we simply didn’t get to play."
That was indeed a tough match, particularly for Gonzalez, who left the USA at the age of three to live in Mendoza and who has represented La Albiceleste at international tournaments. "It was an emotional experience,” he admitted, "but I’m representing the USA, the country where I was born and which has given me the chance to take part in the best futsal competition in the world. I’m very grateful for the chance I’ve been given. It’s an honour to have had the possibility to play against the reigning champions, and more so in my case, given everything that the country represents."
Keep on qualifying, keep on making progress
After facing the title-holders and then the third-placed team from the previous edition, Team USA are now getting ready to take on Serbia with a slim mathematical chance of making it through if they were to win. "Against Iran, we may have lost but played the right way. We kept our nerve, showed progress and came off the court with no regrets, and we’re going to play the same way against Serbia. We’ve got nothing to lose," said Gonzalez, who has already learned a great deal from the tournament, whenever and however it comes to an end for his team.
"We came here to gain experience, looking to the future, and defeats against the best teams in the world is the path we have to go down," the player pointed out, before looking ahead with a degree of optimism. "I’m 26 and I can still learn things, improve and continue to bring something to the team as we make progress over the coming years. We want to make it back and get better every time. We’ve faced big teams, sending out young players who don’t have any futsal experience, and despite all that, we’ve put in some good performances. It fills us with pride and hope and gives us the motivation to carry on working towards the future."
So while legend has it that an Argentinian first invented futsal in the USA, perhaps there will be another tale in the future of the Argentinian-American who breathed life back into the original home of the sport.