Think it's too cold to charge down a field toward a soccer goal? Too chilly to bend it like Beckham? Not so fast, twinkle toes. Just because the turf, so lush and green in the warmer months, goes squishy and slushy in the fall doesn't mean the action stops -- it just moves inside, where the grass (er, AstroTurf) is greener.
In the past few years, Washington suburbs have seen a proliferation of huge arena-like facilities that offer soccer with all the comforts of the indoors, including climate-controlled, well-lit fields and ever-verdant playing surfaces. So even though the mercury is dropping and the skies darkening before you've shut off your workplace computer, take heart: For indoor soccer teams, it's always summer.
What to Expect: Lots of running and a fast-paced game. Indoor turf provides better "grip" than grass, making stops and starts quicker and speeding up the match. But be careful: Too much traction can also mean more injuries.
The rules are similar to traditional soccer. Each side tries to kick (or head) the ball into the opponents' goal to score a point. But the field is smaller and so are the teams -- only five or six people on at a time, each playing both offense and defense (unlike outdoors, which allows up to 11 players, each sticking to a different role). "You develop a certain sharpness in indoor soccer because you're constantly in motion," says Stan Pawlowski, the general manager for Sports Network, a Northern Virginia sports facility. "And because of the more confined space, your passes have to be more precise."
Winter leagues at most facilities begin in early November, with seasons typically running eight weeks and culminating in a tournament. Most are designed for working stiffs: Teams usually meet once a week on nights or weekends. They usually consist of about 10 players who sign up together, but you can also register as a "free agent" and get matched up.
What to Bring: Shorts; a T-shirt; flat-soled, cleat-less athletic shoes with good traction; and shin guards.
Cost: Unless your team is sponsored by a business, the $600 to $700 fee (per team, per season) is usually divided evenly among players.
Where to Have a Ball
The Fairfax Sportsplex. 6800 Commercial Dr., Springfield. 703-750-9521. www.fairfaxsportsplex.com. There's as much action off the faux turf as there is on at this sports outlet-cum-social hub. General manager John Gianelli recommends dropping by and mingling to find a team to join; players often kick back with beer and pizza at postgame celebrations. Team fees are $630.
Maryland Soccer Foundation. 18031 Central Park Cir., Boyds. 301-528-1480. www.mdsoccerplex.org. Think of it as mecca for soccer buffs: This facility boasts a slick indoor sports center -- complete with cafe and two soccer fields -- nestled amid 19 (!) outdoor fields. Teams pay $700 per season.
Rockville SportsPlex. 60 Southlawn Ct., Rockville. 301-838-4455. www.rockvillesports.com. This kiddie paradise -- check out the arcade games, in-house Subway sandwich shop and parade of birthday parties -- also has plenty for adults, including a Friday night division for moms and dads. $700 per season.
Sports Network. 8320 Quarry Rd., Manassas. 703-335-1555. www.sports-network.com. Serious soccer players flock to this facility, where former college stars and so-good-they-could-be-pro players get their kicks. There are also options for amateurs among the co-ed and single-sex divisions. $600 per season.