A Utah city learned soccer and pickleball don’t mix. Now, new futsal courts are coming.

The first publicly accessible futsal courts in West Valley City are set to open this summer as the sport soars in popularity.

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West Valley City • The pickleball courts at Centennial Park have proved to be a popular addition to the recreation hub’s offerings, but not just among pickleballers.

Futsal players have been using the West Valley City courts for their small-scale soccer matches, too, and leaving the nets tattered. Soon, they will have a place of their own.

“The pickleball people weren’t very happy and our staff weren’t happy because, again, it causes damage,” said Jamie Young, the city’s parks director. “The pickleball courts stay really busy, so it’ll be nice to have a space for the futsal players to play on a designated court for them and not have to have turf wars.”

Futsal is a version of soccer played on a small, hard court with smaller goals and often a heavier ball. Courts and formal leagues in Utah play slightly different versions of the game, so informal pickup games are also often called street soccer, indoor soccer and five-a-side.

Young said Utah’s second-largest city, with a Latino populace topping 40%, has fielded multiple requests to build futsal courts in the past couple of years.

Now, thanks to funding from the Rise Athletics Foundation, the city is replacing two of the eight basketball courts at Centennial Park with a pair of fenced-in futsal courts — thus moving the soccer strikers away from the pickleball players.

They will be the first publicly available courts in soccer-mad West Valley City. There are courts at a school in the city, Young said, but they are often locked.

A more accessible option

The smaller, fenced-in spaces are important to improving access to soccer in a community where many families can’t afford to allow their kids to play on expensive club teams that make up the top echelon of the American youth soccer system.

Take it from a former Real Salt Lake star, goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who sits on Rise’s board.

“You see basketball courts everywhere,” Rimando said. “You can play 2 v. 2, 1 v. 1, 3 v. 3. With soccer, you don’t always have 22 players to play. … So, if you get four friends, five friends, six friends, you can play here on the court. You can make it a game.”

That’s great for access, because pickup games can happen at the new courts naturally and with as many people as are around. Young said outside of a handful of one-off events, the courts will always be open and free to use.

Rimando and Young believe the courts will see a lot of use. About 300 to 600 kids play soccer any given season in West Valley City. An adult league plays at Centennial Park, too.

The hard courts will offer a new spin to soccer players of all ages. The smaller pitch means less time and space for an athlete to keep the ball. That shrunken space, as well as some of the loose rules like ones that allow players to pass the ball off walls, encourage technique, quick decision-making and creativity.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) People play street soccer on a smaller indoor court at Calle in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 26, 2024.

More courts eyed for SLC

West Valley City native Isaac Tolentino often attends open-play at Calle, an apparel store/gathering place that also sports an indoor soccer court near 600 West and 700 South in Salt Lake City.

On a recent Wednesday, a barber worked while Mexican and Venezuelan soccer fans watched their teams square off in the Copa America. Tolentino, meanwhile, played winner-stays-on pickup games on the indoor court. He also competes in a Sunday full-pitch outdoor league.

“For futsal and indoor, it’s more fast-paced,” Tolentino said. “So you get more ball control, more footwork, compared to open pitch, which is more long shots, through-balls. Honestly I like coming to play indoor … because it’s fast-paced.”

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) People play street soccer and foosball at Calle in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 26, 2024.

The skills players develop in small-sided, hard-court games can help them make better decisions and control the ball more closely in standard 11-versus-11 matches. Tighter spaces and fewer players also mean that each participant gets more ball touches.

Taylor Peay, another ex-RSL player, grew up in the Salt Lake Valley and said there were not similar options available when he was younger. To make do, he chased a ball around his carport.

“To have a space where you can go and play that’s safe and free,” he said, “is super important.”

Peay founded Rise to make soccer more available to all kids, whether their parents can pay for club play or not. Rise also runs free skills clinics and is teaming up with a couple of youth club teams to cover some players’ fees.

Peay and Rimando used to be involved with Calle’s own nonprofit arm, Free The Game, which has also built courts in the valley. Just last year, it unveiled a court at Poplar Grove’s Sherwood Park and another at the east side’s Sugar House Park.

Through Salt Lake City’s capital improvement program, the foundation is eyeing more places to play across Utah’s capital, from Glendale’s Jordan Park to Sugar House’s Fairmont Park.

Back at Centennial Park in West Valley City, two high schoolers kicked a ball around in the midday sun and shot at a regulation-size goal without nets in the wide-open grassy field next to the soon-to-be-built futsal courts.

One of the players, Rauo Sanzoval, said he definitely would give futsal a try.

“It would be sick,” he said. “I’ve seen clips on social media and it looks really fun. … It looks way more difficult.”