One player on U.S. Futsal National Team head coach Keith Tozer's roster late last year clearly stood out within the pack. He was just old enough to get his driver's license and he had roomed with someone who was old enough to be his father during his first training camp.
That player is Shattuck-Saint Mary's Soccer Academy 17-year-old midfielder Lucas Stauffer, who was 16 when he joined the U.S. Futsal Team in October of 2011. Since playing at the Futsal Grand Prix in Manaus, Brazil, Stauffer has continued to be a part of Tozer's roster pool and is training with the team in California in preparation for the 2012 CONCACAF Futsal Championship in Guatemala in early July.
"It's a dream come true for me," Stauffer said. "Every time I get called into a training camp, I have a chance to take my game to the next level. I've been able to face international competition in Brazil -- some of the best competition. I get to train with older guys and for Coach Tozer. I get to develop as a futsal player and also take that to my outdoor game. It's been absolutely terrific."
Stauffer became the youngest U.S. Futsal player in the program's history when Tozer brought him into the U.S. roster for the Grand Prix, and the longtime futsal and Milwaukee Wave head coach thinks highly of where Stauffer can take his game.
"I think he's the prototype for what a U.S. Futsal player is like for the future," Tozer said. "He's been woven into youth futsal programs. And immediately you see the qualities he has, working well in tight spaces and with defenders up close. He's just a soccer guy -- any form of soccer."
"It's an honor to have somebody such as Keith Tozer say that about you. It's amazing," Stauffer said. "To have him giving you directions and telling you need to do this and you need to do that can only make you a better player if you're willing to put the time and effort into it. He's easily one of the best coaches I've played for and gets you motivated that much more to play harder."
Stauffer joined the team through an identification camp in mid-September last year in Torrance, Calif. The Owensboro, Ky., native, who attends Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault, Minn., and plays for its Development Academy team, decided to make the trek out west to give Tozer and the coaching staff a look at his play.
"It started off following a lot of my friends on the U-17 World Cup roster, and I came across the U.S. Futsal Team having an ID camp," Stauffer said. "My dad has been doing futsal since 2002 -- started as a tennis court and now it's a full warehouse facility. Heâ€™s big into it. So I was like, 'Dad, what do you think?' He said, 'Well, we have to get you out of school, so we'll see.'
"I came out to the ID camp and surprisingly did really well," Stauffer said. "I was not expecting to get called in at all. But I just felt like I had something to prove to everyone. Even though I'm young, I felt I could still play with the highest level in the country."
Following the ID camp, Stauffer was given a chance to play about a month later at the Grand Prix against teams such as Iran and Uruguay. A bulk of the U.S. group featured players from the ID camp, but there was some veteran leadership on the team including midfielder Matthew Stewart â€“ the lone 2008 FIFA Futsal World Cup member on that roster.
"Matt has definitely been a huge influence on me since he's been doing this for so long," Stauffer said. "When we went down to Brazil, he was constantly telling me how to get better. He's been there and done it in the World Cup."
In the third game of the tournament, Stauffer netted his first U.S. Futsal goal against Belgium on Oct. 20 last year.
"It's the highlight of my career,â€ Stauffer said. â€œI didnâ€™t know what to do after it. One of our backs, Jeff Hughes, played a through ball to Kraig Chiles, who scored four goals in that game. He crossed it, the goalie tipped it and I really just smacked it as hard as I could in front of the goal. I honestly went nuts. It was the best feeling."
While Stauffer is a boy among men within the futsal team, he says that the return to the SSMS Academy club is seamless and doesnâ€™t include a heavy wave of storytelling and perspective. The task and focus remain the same.
"When I go back with the club, I donâ€™t expect anything to be different,â€ Stauffer said. â€œIâ€™m just one of the guys working hard for the team and sharing that camaraderie.â€
Staufferâ€™s focus on the futsal side now is driven toward securing a spot to represent the U.S. at the CONCACAF Futsal Championship.
"Me being the youngest player, I have to work twice as hard as any other player on the team," Stauffer said. "If I do get picked up to represent the country in Guatemala, I have to be two times fitter, I have to get bigger to compete physically, which our conditioning coach has taken my body fat up a little bit higher. And I definitely need to be fitter and quicker with the ball if I want to stick around."
"I think he's the present and the future for the futsal program, and as of right now he has held his own," Tozer said. "Not only with the veteran players who are in camp now, but also the prior camp, and that has made him become a better player. He's been able to continue to grow."