Bladium Sports Club in Alameda may have started out as a hockey facility, but these days indoor soccer is all the rage there. Located in a former airplane hangar on the old Alameda Naval Air Station, Bladium is an enormous indoor space, hosting one inline hockey rink and two indoor soccer "fields." One game after another, both league and pickup soccer games are played by a mixed bag of children, men, and women of all ages, all running in circles and jumping on and off the field.
Picture this: a soft, fluffy turf, known as AstroPlay, that creates the feel of a simulated outdoor space. You are inside a 180'x80' oval with fiberglass walls and nets above that extend as far as the eye can see. You take a shot, and bang! The ball hits the wall and flies right back at you before you even know what's happened. Indoor soccer is a challenge to the outdoor player and a real test of the reflexes.
Timothy Heider, a resident of Richmond, has been playing soccer at Bladium on and off for four years. He says he likes the speed and intensity of the game, and that it uses a regulation soccer ball. "I like the aggro," he says. "It's exciting." He enjoys playing at Bladium because it has a feeling of community, "like a club."
Luis Orellana, the soccer director known by some as the "godfather" of soccer at Bladium, is responsible for the rapid development of the soccer activities, which now encompass 211 league teams with as many as two thousand people a week -- and more -- coming in just to play soccer. A former professional player from Nicaragua, he says indoor is great because it's fast, you get to score more goals, and it helps to develop your outdoor game. He encourages newcomers to play pickup because it's fun and noncompetitive, plus: "It's an inexpensive sport. You don't need a lot of equipment." He even teaches a clinic for beginners on Tuesday evenings.
The adrenaline rush at Bladium comes from more than just participation -- it also offers the thrill of spectatorship. Groups of players from countries such as Poland, Romania, and El Salvador often form their own teams. According to Orellana, some people drop by up to five times a week just to watch the high-level teams like the SF Glens, composed of mostly professional players. Kevin Umezawa, who has played and watched games at Bladium, says indoor soccer is exciting to watch because "It's like a condensed version of soccer, with a lot more action going on. It's like soccer on speed."
If you want to join in, bring two T-shirts -- one light, one dark -- any Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. or Tuesday or Friday at noon. Playing costs $7.50 for nonmembers, but is free to watch. For those who like to play and mingle, there's a coed league on Friday evenings. Bladium is also a full gym, with equipment and classes of all kinds, volleyball, and batting cages. But why bother, with so much football fanaticism going on? Go to 800 West Tower Avenue, Building 40, Alameda, or check it out at Bladium.com
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