If you were around here a month ago, you may have read about former Dynamo player Mike Chabala and FIFA YouTuber Hashtag Mike’s quest to prove they’re the best five-a-side soccer team in Houston. You may remember that they were preparing to play in a tournament headed by the world’s third best player, Neymar, and sponsored by Red Bull.
Well, I’m here for an update: Mike, Mike, and their five-person squad were victorious in the Houston round, so they will be moving on to Miami to play for the national championship. Another win would earn them a trip to Brazil in early July to meet Neymar and play against the world.
The rules are unique, but fairly simple. Each team has five players on the field (gender neutral) between the ages of 18 and 25, with two players allowed to be overage. The tournament is held all over the world, with locations in various cities and countries on six continents. Read more on their website.
On the field, each match is 10 minutes long. No goalkeepers allowed. When one team scores, the other team has to take a player off, and the game continues until either the 10 minutes is up or one team runs out of players.
Chabala, in discussing his winning strategies, emphasized defense and tactics as the way to win.
“We were making sure we were more organized, and it really came down to tactics at the end of the day. We have a great team but I think that’s really what sealed the deal for us.
“When a player comes off, your strategy has to adjust. I think that you see, or for what I saw at least, a lot of amateur players that didn’t adjust their game.”
He also talked about possession, and how scoring goals was not necessarily the way to win.
“For me, the mentality and the focus was just keep possession of the ball, which was always a premium as a professional player especially playing here in Houston, where it’s super hot.
“You keep the ball, you run guys out of the game, opportunities are going to present themselves more times than not. And when our tenure with the Dynamo was at its best during those summer months at Robertson Stadium, it was because we kept the ball so much and teams really had a hard time keeping up with us, so it’s pretty much the same type of mentality. “
Making sure not to allow goals is crucial in this tournament, so it was especially important to play conservatively at the back.
“You have to be really careful defensively, which again as a professional, you have to do. One mistake can lose you a game. And that’s ultimately what made the difference.”
Those strategies worked for the fitness-minded squad, who faced no serious threats from a diverse group of teams they faced in Houston. Chabala, a former outside back for the Dynamo who enjoyed a 10-year pro career, owns a local fitness club called Sphere that focuses on personal training through soccer. His team was made up of athletes who attend or teach classes at the gym, so they often were able to out-work the opposition physically.
That tournament is very much focused on players’ abilities to out-muscle the other team, rather than beat them with skill. Chabala, who played as a defender in this tourney, talked a lot about how important that was, and how confident he is that his team can compete with some of the best in the world not because they have five-star skills, but because they are more tactically prepared and are ready to physically out-run and show their strength against opponents.
The competition in Miami will be much better than it was in Houston for Chabala and co., but they remain confident.
“If I was playing on a professional level right now with my teammates I would be upset because this format is not necessarily set for the most skilled group of players, it’s more of the tactical, defensive group that knows how to win. So actually I’m confidant in myself but also the teammates and the gameplan we’re going to execute when we get over there. Just roll out a good performance and you know what, have fun at the same time.”
As for the e-sports star Hashtag Mike, Chabala gave a pretty good analysis of his game, noting his ability to hold-up play and be a strong No. 9 up top. He called the YouTuber “a poor man’s Brian Ching.”
They’ll need him to continue playing well if they are going to advance to Brazil. Whether they win or not, they’ll at least be able to say they out-worked the other team.