Q&A with U.S. Futsal National Team Head Coach Keith Tozer
ussoccer.com recently spoke with U.S. Futsal National Team head coach Keith Tozer on his coaching career and how he feels futsal can benefit youth development today. An indoor soccer legend in his own right, Tozer was the first player drafted in the inaugural season of the Major Indoor Soccer League in 1978. After a long and successful professional career, Tozer transitioned to coaching, choosing to remain on the indoor field that he grew to love. Leading his teams to more than 700 wins, today he is regarded as one of the best indoor soccer coaches in North America.
As a result of his achievements in indoor, as well as his strong leadership skills, Tozer was hired in 1996 to coach the U.S. Futsal National Team. He has led the team for almost 17 years now, guiding it to two CONCACAF Futsal Championship gold medals (1996, 2004) and an impressive seventh-place finish at the 2004 FIFA Futsal World Cup in China Taipei.
Over the last year, Tozer has been working closely with U.S. Soccer to help spread futsal throughout the country so that all players can benefit from the small-sided game. Tozer feels that futsal, combined with outdoor soccer, is the key to unlocking the next great player.
ussoccer.com: You had a long and successful professional playing career mainly in the Major Indoor Soccer League before starting to coach. What were some of the highlights for you from your playing career?
Keith Tozer: “I was honored to be the first player drafted in the history of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) to the Cincinnati Kids in 1978. It was an exciting time because we really didn’t know much about indoor soccer and we were all excited about playing there. My team, the Cincinnati Kids, actually played in the first game in the history of the MISL at Nassau Coliseum against the New York Arrows. We were kind of pioneers in the sport. We were excited about it and 30-some-odd years later I’m still here.”
ussoccer.com: You transitioned from playing indoor to coaching after several seasons as a player-coach. Was it a difficult transition when you gave up playing or was it natural since you had already been coaching for a while?
KT: “It was difficult in the sense that I loved to play. That’s why as a player-coach I really enjoyed it. My role as a player was to be the fittest because I needed to be the role model. If the coach is fit, everybody must be fit. I needed to be the hardest working guy on the team, and as a defender that was easy for me. But when I stopped playing, I lost that competitiveness as far as being on the field. It was a role I needed to adjust to. I actually became a full-time coach and then went back to being a player-coach for one year with the Atlanta Attack. Then I finally retired completely from playing. I still miss it. I still wish I could play, but unfortunately I can’t.”
ussoccer.com: In January 2012, you recorded your 700th indoor win as a coach and became the most victorious coach in North American indoor soccer history. Describe how it felt to reach such a milestone.
KT: “You tend to look at records and achievements later on in life when you have more time to look back on them. Ron Newman, Kenny Cooper and some of the other great coaches in the indoor game were on that list, and I hold those guys in high regard. Out of those 700-plus wins though, I didn’t win one of them. It was all of the great players and assistant coaches and trainers I’ve had. A lot of my satisfaction has been from balancing the wins against the losses, winning some championships and producing players that have gone on to become great players.”
ussoccer.com: You now coach both indoor for the Milwaukee Wave and for the U.S. Futsal National Team. What are some of the differences between the indoor game and futsal?
KT: “First of all there’s one less player in futsal. The field is smaller in futsal. There are no boards in futsal. In indoor, there are three-point goals where in futsal there are only one-point goals. Those are the obvious differences.
“Another difference is that futsal players have to be extremely technical. They have to be very tactically sound, too, because you don’t have a lot of room on a court to move. I think futsal is going to be a tremendous youth development component for U.S. Soccer. The games are somewhat similar from outdoor to futsal to indoor soccer. To me, if a player understands the concepts and they’re technically sound and they’re physically fit and they’re psychologically strong, I think they can play any form of soccer.”
ussoccer.com: From the coaching perspective then, how are the games different? Do you have to change your style of coaching when moving from indoor soccer to futsal?
KT: “For me, it’s been great because I think I’m in the best situation in the world. I coach for what I feel is the perennial indoor team, I coach for my country, and the games are similar. I’ve kind of taken the futsal game and blended it in with the indoor game and we have a hybrid going on. I think the players, especially from our team the Milwaukee Wave, and other teams in the league like the Baltimore Blast, are all starting to use more futsal tactics. We’re seeing that this new generation of younger players is having an easier job adapting even though we don’t have professional futsal in our country.”
ussoccer.com: Let’s look at some highlights from your time with the U.S. Futsal Team. In 2004 you led the team to win the CONCACAF Championship and went on to the FIFA Futsal World Cup, where the team made it out of group play and finished in seventh place overall. Describe the atmosphere at that World Cup tournament.
KT: “Whenever you get to that ultimate stage of a world championship it is such an amazing thing. It’s excitement, it’s stress, it’s pressure. It’s a lot of honor, it’s a privilege. Hours, weeks, months and years of preparation all go down into three games in the first round. We were so proud to get out of the first round and move on. I’m not the kind of person to say, ‘well, we lost a game but we kept it close,’ as something that is good, but we actually played extremely well against Brazil. We scored five goals against them which was a major feat at that time.”
ussoccer.com: How did you prepare the team for that World Cup?
KT: “It’s kind of a daunting task because most of the other countries have professional futsal leagues. We don’t have professional futsal players to pick from like the other countries do. We get together a year or a year and a half before a tournament. We try to talk some players into playing. They come in and we teach them. I have to be careful because I don’t want to give them too much information so that they become robotic, but at the same time, there are so many things that you have to go over.”
ussoccer.com: What are the benefits for youth players playing futsal?
KT: “Futsal is another added tool for youth coaches in our country to help speed up the learning process for the outdoor game. I am a FIFA instructor and I remember a couple of years ago in Madrid, the President of Spanish Fútbol opened a conference there. He said one of the reasons why Spain has the World Cup championship trophy in the building next door is because they decided a long time ago that futsal was going to be a part of soccer in their country.
“Now that U.S. Soccer is mandating that futsal will be a component with youth development, I think it’s going to be tremendous for our players. It’s just logical. Small-sided games have been something that everybody has preached around the world; getting more touches on the ball, being able to think quicker and react quicker, and being able to answer the soccer equation not through a kick but through technique. I think futsal is going to be another great benefit for us.”
ussoccer.com: U.S. Soccer is placing a greater emphasis on futsal for youth players. Can you explain the reasons for this?
KT: “I think we’re trying to follow what some of the other countries, like Spain and Brazil most notably, are doing with their youth development in futsal. It’s no secret that their players are immersed in the game of futsal as well as the outdoor game. They’re technically sound, they’re gifted, they’re not robotic. That’s one of the reasons why we’re doing this.
“A year ago, U.S. Soccer got together with us and said let’s do two U-14 futsal tournaments along with a coaching component. We did one in Philadelphia and one in Los Angeles. The pilot events were held in two of the country’s biggest soccer markets last winter and included education for players, coaches, referees and parents. Futsal appears to be the ideal tool for youth development of our outdoor players. The game of futsal is a repetitive, but cognitive application of new techniques which will allow youth players to develop performance to a subconscious level. Playing futsal will allow youth players the ability to touch the ball 12 times more than playing outdoor soccer, allowing players to develop faster and more refined foot skills from making an increasing amount of decisions , potentially accelerating their learning.
“Then two weeks ago I was in Dallas for the Development Academy U-16/U-18 Showcase where I did a classroom seminar and an on-field seminar for approximately 300 coaches. I gave them what I feel can be the final keys to the piano. In order to make a great song, you need all of the keys in a piano. Futsal is the final key to this. A coach is now armed with all the different knowledge that he has both in outdoor and in futsal. I think futsal is going to help create the player that can play outside the box; the one that can score multiple goals in a game and not wait for something to happen but make it happen on their own. It’s an exciting time. I’ve been a coach for 16-17 years and now to be in front of all these great outdoor coaches at these Academies and talk about futsal, it’s a dream come true. It’s something I’ve been waiting for a long time.”
ussoccer.com: As you mentioned, you have been involved recently with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. You were just down in Frisco, Texas in late June for the D.A. playoffs and Showcase. Tell me about your involvement with the D.A. and what your goals are with them.
KT: “Dave Chesler (Director of Coaching Development), Tony Lepore (Director of Scouting, Development Academy) and Asher Mendelsohn (Director of Strategic Initiatives) made me a big part of what was going on in Dallas. It was great. I sat in on all the scouting meetings and the technical director meetings. Then on a Tuesday morning I did an hour and a half PowerPoint presentation, basically Futsal 101, followed by an hour of demonstration on the court with a U-12/U-14 team. I addressed 150 coaches on a Tuesday and 150 coaches on a Wednesday, so pretty much the majority of the coaches that were in Dallas. It was a great moment for me.
“What was great was that Lucas Stauffer, who plays for Shattuck-Saint Mary’s Soccer Academy in Minnesota, came to a futsal ID camp when he was 15 years old. He is now on the U.S. Futsal National Team. He scored two important goals against Poland three weeks ago in the finals in a tournament in Poland. He was there at the Academy playoffs playing for his U-18 club team with Shattuck. I think he’s the prototypical kid that’s hopefully going to be coming through U.S. Soccer both in outdoor and futsal to create the next top player.”
ussoccer.com: What are your goals for futsal in the U.S. in the next 5-10 years?
KT: “One is being able to develop more technical players and more tactical players through the game of futsal to help our ultimate goal of winning the World Championship. One of my roles as the National Team coach is to hopefully push our country in the right direction in that development. I think another key component is going to be futsal education; certification courses similar to the “A,” “B,” “C,” “D” and “E” in outdoor. I feel it’s extremely important that we do have education and also goalkeeping and refereeing.”
ussoccer.com: How can outdoor coaches begin to get their players involved in futsal?
KT: “Well it’s pretty easy. The easiest thing you can do is to find a gymnasium, find some space where you can put up some futsal goals, and the beauty of the game is to let them play. A lot of times the best teacher of the game is the game itself. Players need to play it. Then the educational process will come through the things that we’re going to be doing with U.S. Soccer. But again, the easiest thing is find a gym, find a tennis court, find an open parking lot, throw a ball down and go play.”
ussoccer.com: Any final messages for coaches?
KT: “I think it’s human nature for people not to like change. As I said in my seminars in Dallas, keep an open mind. Try to embrace it. Futsal is no different than any other tool that you would use to do the ultimate thing, and the ultimate thing for a coach is to develop the next top player. That’s what this is all about. It’s not about winning and losing, it’s about developing because when you develop, the end product is winning. Everywhere I go I tell coaches to remember that futsal is not taking over outdoor soccer. This is another part of the U.S. Soccer family, it’s a part of the FIFA family. It’s here, it’s going to develop, so embrace it, use it and learn from it.”