"Here, I can experiment and see if I can do these new tricks quickly in a small space," Sanchez said. "If I can humiliate a lot of people in futsal, it's easier on the big field."

Soccer experts say that children improve at soccer more quickly if they play futsal. That draws some high school soccer players to DeForest during the off-season as they try to emulate international soccer legends such as Brazil's Ronaldinho and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo. Last year, the U.S. Soccer Federation began requiring some of its academy teams to play futsal during the off-season.

When played with official rules, futsal is also distinct from indoor soccer (though for marketing purposes, the names are often interchangeable). Indoor soccer fields typically resemble a hockey rink, and kicks that bounce off surrounding walls are legal. In contrast, futsal has an out-of-bounds line just like soccer and sneakers or running shoes are worn instead of cleats.

L.A. Unified adopted those rules when it introduced futsal as an after-school sport at soccer-hungry middle schools two years ago. It's the only sport that attracts as many girls as boys. Last year, the number of schools offering futsal doubled from 32 to 64.

The district's futsal championship in October, played on a field among Wilshire Boulevard high-rises, featured teams from across Los Angeles County. Nearly all the competitors were Latino; several said they participated in soccer as well.

April Diaz, a member of Dodson Middle School's title-winning teams in futsal and soccer, said it didn't matter which of the two sports she was playing as long as she was with her sisterhood of teammates.

In either case, the same simple mantra guided the girls to success. "We try our best and play harder every time," she said.

The county opened its first futsal fields last summer at Lennox Park, near LAX, and Col. Leon H. Washington Park in the Florence-Firestone area. Parents play with toddlers during the day. Teenagers come through in the afternoon. Adults, many of them Spanish-speaking immigrants, play pickup games in the evenings.

County officials described the addition of futsal courts, sometimes at the expense of general park space, as being necessary to make community parks relevant for today's demand for soccer-like activities.

"On any given day, you had mayhem of soccer competing with baseball," said Karly Katona, a deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. "This creates a more specific area for the soccer."

Three months ago, the city of Los Angeles resurfaced the popular turf futsal court in Glassell Park with artificial turf because the field had worn out from daily use. Constructed five years ago, it's the only one maintained by the city, and people come from as far as Pomona to play. The city plans to build futsal areas at two more parks this year; Lynwood and Downey plan to open futsal courts by summer.

Thousands more play futsal each week at a handful of private facilities, a mix of outdoor lots and indoor warehouses. The entrance fee is usually $5.

In South Gate, the Scottish firm Goals Soccer Centers built 11 fields on the site of an archery range, and it is considering adding more locations. Three fields at Hollywood Sports Park in Bellflower — built in the late 1990s on top of tennis courts — are believed to be the region's oldest.

In Long Beach, Sanchez no longer needs to tear down tennis nets; the city has done it for him. Three of the four tennis courts at DeForest Park were converted for futsal last summer. Two have a rubber-like playing surface, but Sanchez prefers the concrete court still etched with tennis lines because it cuts less skin if he falls.

On a recent Thursday evening, Sanchez watched from a stairwell that leads down to the courts. He had been sidelined after smashing his toe into the ground trying to kick the ball the night before — an unfortunate consequence of playing on a surface without grass. But he didn't want to change his routine, so he came to the courts just the same.

Now an engineering student at El Camino College, Sanchez shows up six nights a week looking for pickup games.

"It's a stress reliever," he said. "So I hope I can keep coming out here forever."


Twitter: @peard33


Twitter: @peard33