Professional indoor soccer, billed as one of the fastest games in the world, will make its local debut this weekend at the D.C. Armory when the Washington Diplomats host the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at 8 p.m. Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday.
"A lot of Americans don't like 1-0 games so indoor soccer should be more entertaining to them," said Washington defender Alex Pringle, who is from Scotland. "The indoor game always has at least 10 goals. It is much more physical and demanding on the players but I enjoy it very much."
Washington, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Dallas and Tampa Bay are the North American Soccer League clubs that will enage in the six-week indoor session.
The Dips and Rowdies are the only teams that have indoor facilities and so will host all games. There will be no prize money for the winning team. The Dips are playing simply to keep in shape and stay in touch with metropolitan area soccer fans.
"You play outdoors for five months and then nothing for the next monghs," said new coach Gordon Bradley, a coach and executive for the New York Cosmos before coming here. "Right now, the league is in the process of signing all the players to 12-month contracts so it makes sense to have an indoor season."
"Indoor soccer also gives us a chance to get to know the fans and for them to get to know us," said Bradley. "The secret of being a success here is fan identity. The football season is only six months but no one forgets the Redskins. This indoor season should also help those people learn the game."
NASL outdoor soccer rules apply to the indoor game with the following exceptions:
The playing area is a 200-by 85-foot Astro Turf surface enclosed by a wall 3 1/2 feet high (similar to ice hockey). The goal area is 16 feet wide and four feet high.
There is a 12-player team limit but only six men (including the goalkeeper) can be on the floor at any one time. Each team must have a minimum of four in action.
There will be three 20-minute periods with two 15-minute intermissions.
The ball is out of play only if it clears the perimeter wall or adjoining screen. Otherwise, players are allowed to play the bounces off the wall, screen, goal posts, etc.
Players will serve two minutes in the penalty box for minor infractions and five minutes for major misconduct.
Instead of the throw-in, there will be a "kick-in" if the ball goes over the side.
If the ball is passed forward by any member of the attacking team and it passes over two yellow lines without being touched by another player (of either team), the pass shall be termed a three-zone pass. In such a situation, the other team is awarded an indirect free kick.
Most of the Diplomat players feel indoor soccer is the perfect offseason conditioner.
"The game is fast and it's hard to go more than four or five minutes without taking a breather," said Pringle. "And it's a great way to improve your reflexes."
Washington has practiced on Astrowy only once, so Bradley has found it useless to map a strategy.
"Can't plan any, but neither can most of the other teams," said Bradley.
"The good thing about the indoor season is that it carries us right into the outdoor practice sessions. Most of the players should be in good shape," the coach said, "At least, the people will see some good one-on-one skills. And the goalie will be a very busy man."