Soccer, shrunk to fit

Sport works in versatile venues

Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2006

One of the unique things about the sport of soccer is that the game can be adapted to fit the venue. That might explain its popularity across northern latitudes, where the sport has been moved inside and is played in every type of arena, from tiny gyms to large field houses.

“There is flexibility. Soccer is like that. It does allow for some flexibility, both indoors and outdoors,” said Darryl Byerley, indoor soccer chair for the 2006 Arctic Winter Games.

Byerley said the indoor soccer venue has varied from Games to Games — soccer was played on an artificial turf surface at Wood Buffalo in 2004 instead of a gym floor — and the specifics of what the Kenai Peninsula could provide were worked out during the bid process.

For this year’s Games, Byerley was tasked with turning the Soldotna High School gym into an indoor soccer arena, complete with hockey-style boards, 6-foot-high by 10-foot-wide goals, and enough seating to accommodate the crowds at what has been one of the busiest venues this week.

“For this tournament, there are 25 teams in five different brackets, playing a total of 70 games. Basically, we have a match every hour,” Byerley said.

Competition started at 8 a.m. during the Games, and players were in action as late as 11:15 p.m. on Thursday night, when a three-team shootout was needed to break a tie in the standings after round robin play.

Indoor soccer organizers were able to use the old boards removed from the Soldotna Sports Center last year to construct the arena. Byerley said assistance from VECO Inc. was invaluable in constructing metal braces to support the boards as well as in fabricating the goals for the competition.

What organizers were able to come up with is a soccer arena 110 feet long and 60 feet wide — several feet bigger in each direction than the basketball court at Soldotna.

Byerley also took advantage of the many volunteers at the venue, from the 25 or so youth players who served as ball boys and ball girls, to the staff of 10 that kept things running smoothly, and even the six volunteer referees, two from Alaska, one from Texas, two from Yukon and one from the Northwest Territories.

Throw in five skilled players per team — one goalkeeper and four floor players — and you’ve got an entertaining, quick-moving event.

Byerley said he’s had positive feedback from tournament participants.

“They’re really enjoying Alaska,” said René Olsen, coach of Team Greenland’s junior boys team. “This is a huge trip for these boys. Doing good is an extra. We’re here for the play and having fun, and doing well is extra.”

Olsen’s team was 4-0 in round robin play and defeated Yukon in Friday’s semifinals to reach Saturday’s gold ulu match.

Olsen said his team has plenty of practice indoors. Soccer and handball are the most popular sports in Greenland, and soccer players spend eight months out of the year training and playing indoors.

Just as the arenas vary from tournament to tournament, the rules can be adapted to fit the arena.

Olsen said that typically, their goalkeeper is just another player and doesn’t use his hands. Also, Greenland teams generally don’t play with the goalie crease, which was part of the setup for these Games.

Olsen also said the playing field has leveled since the last Games.

“There’s a lot of talented players. They’re doing better and better,” Olsen said. “All the teams are pretty good.”

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