Playing soccer on a basketball court at the East Lawrence Rec Center may seem a little out of place for some, but for 10-year-old Galal Abdul-Salaam, it's a far cry from where he once played.
"We used to play in the sand," Abdul-Salaam, who plays indoor soccer with Lawrence Futsal, said. "We played up to our ankles." Abdul-Salaam was born in Saudi Arabia and remembers those days playing in less than ideal conditions.
But now, he and a number of youngsters who hail from other countries, enjoy playing their favorite game right here in Lawrence. The Lawrence Futsal league, which has entered its second session, offers players a chance to keep playing the game, even in the winter months. The league has drawn a number of kids to its ranks and among them many international players (team America consists almost entirely of players from outside the country) who took the opportunity to keep playing the game of their homelands.
This can be said for cousins Antonio Martinez-Lopez and Gustavo Mejia, both of whom were born in Mexico and now attend Hillcrest Elementary. Both could recall how the game was viewed in their country.
"It's pretty big in Mexico," Martinez-Lopez said. "There it's a passion."
Conversely he and his cousin, Gustavo, also said they were surprised at the lack of enthusiasm for the game in this country. While many of the players on both squads were born outside of the United States, others like Antonio Giovanni- Schoneich, were born here, but have seen the differences in the game abroad.
"My mom is from Germany and my dad is from Italy," Giovanni-Schoneich, 12, said. "We went over there three years ago and it was different. It is very popular over there, they play soccer all of the time. You can just go find some friends and start a game anytime."
And having seen the game across the Atlantic, Giovanni-Schoneich found some surprises in the American version.
"I was really surprised that here it's mainly the girls who play," he said. "In Germany and Italy it's only the guys. And also here if you want to play you have to join a club or make a team. There you just play in the street."
But not all of the players found things in America to be so different.
Sebastian Garcia, who moved to the United States from Uruguay in 2000, put things in much simpler terms.
"It's the same game," Garcia said. "It's the same rules. Everyone wears jerseys."
Even with all of the differences, and similarities, in the game here in America, the international players who kick the ball around at the East Lawrence Rec Center feel that something good could come from soccer in their new country.
"I think there is a future playing soccer here," Martinez-Lopez said.
His teammate, Giovanni-Schoneich, echoed those thoughts, but with a bit of caution. "There is a future here for soccer," Giovanni-Schoneich said. "But I think if you really want to play here, you have to pay."