The Canadian men open against Haiti in a CONCACAF Futsal Championship that is down to 13 teams with the withdrawal of French Guiana, Martinique, and Guadeloupe.
The tournament, which runs through Sunday in Guatemala City, will determine the four representatives from North and Central America and the Caribbean at this September’s World Cup in Lithuania.
Canada, under head coach Kyt Selaidopoulos, has been drawn in Group C with reigning CONCACAF champion Costa Rica and Haiti. The top two in each of the four groups advance to the quarterfinals with the final four booking their ticket to Lithuania.
All games are being played at the Domo Polideportivo, which hosted the 2000 FIFA Futsal World Cup.
The Canadian team met in Chicago, stopping in Houston before arriving in Guatemala City a week ago.
“We’re basically in a bubble,” said Selaidopoulos. “We go from the bus to the hotel to our rooms and to our meeting room … There’s no movement outside or anything. Just when we take the bus to the facility.”
The indoor futsal game is five-a-side with two 20-minute halves. The clock stops whenever the ball goes out of play or there is a break in play. Each team starts with one goalkeeper and four outfield players on the pitch, with unlimited substitutions.
It is a high-energy physical game, with space at a premium and close control of the ball an asset. There are elements of both basketball and hockey, with players looking to get in the way of opponents like a basketball screen and teams pulling their goalkeeper for an extra attacker.
Canada came close to making the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup, denied by a 7-4 loss to Cuba in its final group game at the CONCACAF qualifier. The Canadians lost to Costa Rica 3-2 and beat Curacao 7-4 before falling to Cuba.
“We came close but it’s a learning process,” Selaidopoulos said. “We learn from it and now we’re a little bit better prepared to face challenges.
Canada ended up finishing sixth in CONCACAF in 2016. It placed seventh in 2012, its only other participation.
Costa Rica, Cuba, Panama, and Guatemala represented CONCACAF at the 2016 World Cup.
Canada has not qualified for the Futsal World Cup since the inaugural event in 1989 in the Netherlands, where it failed to advance from the first round after beating Japan and losing to Argentina and Belgium.
Brazil has dominated the world futsal scene, winning five of the eight FIFA World Cups. Spain has won twice and finished runner-up to Brazil three times. Argentina is the defending champion.
Ian Bennett, named MVP of the Major Arena Soccer League this season, provides some veteran leadership to the Canadian squad. The 37-year-old is a longtime member of the Milwaukee Wave. But he switched to the Florida Tropics when Milwaukee elected not to take part in the MASL season.
“Ian is a big attribute to our team. He’s one of the oldest and he understands that this is probably his last chance to get to a World Cup so he’s focused and he’s ready to go,” Selaidopoulos said.
Jason (Jayzinho) Quezada is a renowned street footballer, a magician with the ball.
“We’re adding something different into the mix,” said Selaidopoulos. “And hopefully it pays off.”
The roster also includes former Canadian futsal player of the year winners Nazim Belguendouz and Luis Rocha, who is an alternate on the squad.
Mo Farsi, last year’s top futsal player, opted to focus on his Canadian Premier League career with Cavalry FC. Farsi was named the CPL’s Best Canadian U-21 Player in 2020.
Selaidopoulos’ squad has had to come together virtually over the last year. He says that is not an issue given the connections on the team.