ANN ARBOR - Tree Town's semi-pro futsal team, the Ann Arbor Mudpuppies, will host the National Futsal Premier League semifinal at Arbor Prep High School Saturday at 7 p.m. against Chicago's FC Tryzub. After a successful inaugural season, the Mudpuppies finished second in the league.
Saturday's winning team will advance to the finals on May 3 against reigning champion Futsal Indy in Indianapolis.
What is futsal?
Futsal is similar to soccer but is played on a hard court that's smaller than a soccer field and is typically indoors. Five players compete on each team, including the goalie. The sport originated in South America and is becoming increasingly popular around the world.
"We’re thrilled to be competing in the first NFPL playoffs and are focused on advancing to the finals. The community support has been amazing and we’re hoping to make them proud and deliver another home result," co-owner and general manager Bilal Saeed said.
Saeed is also the chairman of AFC Ann Arbor, a semi-pro soccer club. The sports clubs are passion projects that he pursues when he's not busy running his Pakmode Media + Marketing agency. When asked via email how he fits it all in, he replied:
"I love what I do and these projects allow me to utilize my professional skills and passion in a way that hopefully make a positive impact on the clubs. I couldn't do any of this without the support of my amazing wife Saima and the Pakmode staff, who also dedicate a lot of time and energy to these projects. Whether it be AFCAA or the Mudpuppies, the players become like younger brothers to me, and I love being able to be a small part of their life journey in either sport."
A team is born
Saeed started the Mudpuppies in 2018 with partner Drew Ducker. "About two years ago, I asked Bilal to come in on a few Futsal youth projects I had in the works and he immediately fell in love with the game," said Ducker via email. "Last year, there was an opportunity to compete in an Amateur League that presented itself. With Bilal’s sports marketing background and my experience with the US Men’s Futsal National Team, it was a no brainer to put a team together."
They say the community has reacted well to the new sport and team, and the owners are always looking for opportunities to engage local youth to learn about futsal.
"Now we are continuing to find ways to engage with the rest of the Ann Arbor community," said Ducker. "We are active in media outlets and are currently getting involved in schools and other community organizations to create more awareness of what Futsal is and how young kids can get involved in the sport."
The Mudpuppies have several international players hailing from Serbia, Canada, Venezuela, Romania, Albania and Brazil. Many are college players or former professional indoor soccer players, and some are high school aged.
"We look for players that have some experience playing futsal or players that fit the profile of a futsal player: Skillful with the ball and good decision maker are two of many traits we look for," said Ducker.
Because of the limited space of the court, futsal players have to be creative and improvise -- this is what makes it a compelling spectator sport.
During Saturday's match, players will be wearing wristbands to commemorate three futsal players who were killed in the Christchurch mosque shootings on March 15 in New Zealand. A moment of silence to remember Atta Ellayan, Tariq Omar and Sayaad Milne will be observed before the match begins.
All kids 14 and under get in free. Adult tickets are $10 and can be purchased online.
For more information, visit www.mudpuppiesfutsal.com.
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