Flippin' future in futsal world?

Soccer: With his passion for the indoor game, the Blast's Denison Cabral seems made to order for a role in the international version.

April 01, 1999|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Pssst, Keith Tozer, jot this name -- Denison Cabral -- on the list of prospects you keep for your U.S. national futsal squad, the team you lead when you're not coaching the Milwaukee Wave.

Cabral's been the Blast's top, or near top, scorer all season. Smallish, can-do kind of guy, 25. Quick. Shoots hard with either foot, sometimes while hanging in the air at picturesque angles.

After scoring, he usually does a back flip perfected as a kid on the beach back home; fans love it. He's Brazilian, maybe before long, Brazilian-American, which is why you should note his name now, Keith.

Sorry, readers. Yes, that word was, indeed, "futsal," what the rest of the world calls indoor soccer. It differs from the American game: Five-a-side, no boards and thus, lots of sleight of foot keeps play fast and exciting. Nice game.

Trouble is, no one in the U.S. has seen it except guys who compete for this country, because the few times they play each year, it's in places like Guatemala, or Holland, or Malaysia, or Brazil.

Thanks mainly to the National Professional Soccer League, though, the Americans do OK, having finished in the top three worldwide twice since the sport got started here in 1986. Brazil -- no surprise -- dominates this soccer sub-species.

Which turns this back to Cabral, who must be one of the few NPSL players who professes to lack even the tiniest yearning for the outdoor game, even though he's played it, as well as years of beach soccer, having grown up within walking distance of the Atlantic Ocean.

About the indoor game, Cabral is both enthusiastic and unequivocal. "I love it. It's my game," he said.

So much that with his father's counsel about following his dreams and doing his best, a scared but confident Cabral left home on the southern Brazilian island of Florianopolis -- at 15 -- to play professional futsal 10 hours away. He was good enough to be invited to play on the Brazilian national Under-17 team. But an injury benched him, and life went on.

You taking notes, Keith Tozer? Could this be a futsal Thomas Dooley-like story, maybe? Dooley, twice invited to play for the German national team, only to get hurt, eventually earned 85 caps for the U.S. national team before retiring several weeks ago. If he had played for Germany, making the U.S. team would have been impossible.

Anyway, Cabral also figures he was destined to play indoor soccer because in 1994, at a 15-day tryout camp in Florida for foreign players chasing dreams and vague outdoor prospects in the U.S. and Europe, he discovered the American indoor game on TV.

"When I first saw it, I was like, wow I really liked the game," he said. "It's the way I like to play, you know? It's quick, fast. The ball's always close to me. More action. And when the first opportunity came, I went for it."

Opportunity knocked just a few days later in the form of a tryout with the Washington Warthogs. Cabral played four seasons in Landover until the summertime Continental Indoor Soccer League folded two years ago, and, in 100 games, he scored 109 goals, assisting on 64 more.

The area has been good to the young man who flips over soccer. He capitalizes on his fan-favorite status by operating youth soccer camps around Washington, complete with Web site.

He also played two winters with the indoor Baltimore Bays, sharing in two of the team's three I-League championships. Last winter, he joined the Spirit, resuming his goal-a-game pace.

And this season, he's the NPSL's 12th-most prolific scorer, an emerging star with two three-point goals, 31 two-pointers, a league-second 21 one-point goals, 19 assists and 108 points in 38 games.

Blast coach Kevin Healey, who expected Cabral to be a 100-point scorer, calls him "a tremendous finisher" who also is fun to have on a team because "he's a kid who loves life."

Technically, Healey said, Cabral "hits balls well from every angle, as good as anybody I've seen. He's flamboyant in how he can get off the ground at times. But on top of that, he's a very good passer, which means teams can't overplay him. And he readjusts himself so well to hit balls coming off the boards."

Cabral said that learning how to use -- and avoid -- the boards was his greatest adjustment to the U.S. game, explaining: "They're like an extra man against you, but you can pass and shoot off them, too."

At 5 feet 4 and 150 pounds, he also had to adjust to the physical aspect of the U.S. game. Though agile enough to avoid a lot of contact, he said he has learned "to play hard, because that way they respect you." Indeed. His 43 penalty minutes are second in the NPSL.

That's Denison Cabral's story, Keith Tozer. Oh, you also should know he's thinking about U.S. citizenship now that, as he puts it, he's married, has his own business, and life is good. Asked if citizenship might also qualify him to try for the U.S. futsal team, Cabral's already cheery face brightened.

"To play for the U.S. team? Oh, that would be my goal," he replied. "But I don't know who's involved, who to call. But I want to try it. I want to do it. That would be a dream."

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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