This article can be found in the Fall 2021 edition of the Alumni Magazine.

October 27, 2021

Reactions ranged from curious to confused when Carlos Cruz (BS ’96) first brought futsal to Fort Wayne. He understood. The sport, a cousin of indoor soccer, limits players to five on a side, uses a smaller ball and often takes place on converted basketball courts with no walls.

“It’s very unforgiving, and when an athlete first starts out, it looks like a train wreck, with the ball going all over the place,” Cruz said. “Once the kids learn to control it, it’s amazing.”

Control serves as the key word. Players learn to control their body movements, they learn to control the ball and, ultimately, they learn to control their destinies as athletes. Whether they continue in futsal or pursue traditional soccer as their passion, playing futsal in the winter months gives them an edge that didn’t always exist for those in the Fort Wayne area.

If not for Cruz, the term “futsal” might still be greeted by “What’s that?” in Fort Wayne.

Cruz grew up playing futsal in the greater Chicagoland area and developed into a top-notch soccer player at Hammond High School. He earned college attention and excelled at Saint Francis, leading the team in goals for three straight years and tying the school record of 12 assists in a season (Alexis Ferreira da Silva broke the record with 14 in 2013). Cruz ranks seventh in USF history in career goals and sixth in career points.

Cruz met his wife, Jodie, at Saint Francis—she was a volleyball player, and they met crossing paths at the Hutzell Athletic Center—and they married shortly after he graduated in 1996. Cruz then faced a crossroads. He could pursue playing soccer professionally for relatively meager wages or he could take a position with the Dana Corporation. He went with business and turned his athletic attention to coaching.

Cruz’s decision to follow a call to coach changed Fort Wayne’s futsal future. He started his soccer coaching career at Bishop Dwenger High School (to which he later returned) and spent time with the local Citadel Soccer program and the Fort Wayne Sport Club before starting his own futsal program. He and his family also lived for a short time in North Carolina.

“In futsal, kids are able to repeat, repeat, repeat—they try a skill, make a mistake and get to try it again seconds later,” he said. “They get 600% more touches on the ball and development is natural.”

Today, Cruz runs Fort Wayne Futsal, the largest futsal league in Indiana, regularly featuring 200 teams—a huge growth from the humble beginnings of eight local teams. He also runs the Fort Wayne Phoenix Futsal Club, which fields successful teams in national competitions and develops players who have become part of the United States Youth Futsal National Team.

Cruz will be part of the U.S. Youth Futsal National Team that travels to Madrid, Spain in December for eight days of international competition. Two of his sons—Dominic, a senior at Bishop Dwenger and Luca, a junior at Dwenger—have been invited as members of the national team. Their father also coaches them in soccer as Dwenger’s head boys coach.

Carlos and Jodie Cruz have two older children—Alex, who assists his father with the Dwenger soccer team, and Brianna
(BS ’19), who played soccer for the USF women’s team. All the family is involved in futsal and soccer in one way or another.

Jodie and Alex handle much of the day-to-day operations of the Fort Wayne Futsal League while Carlos focuses on the Fort Wayne Phoenix. Carlos also works as a buyer for Brunswick Corp., specializing in Harris pontoon boats. Cruz’s commitments make for a full schedule, but he feels a passion to develop young people through futsal and soccer—so they can make an impact long after they’re done playing.

“There’s so much hype around young kids developing and playing sports,” Cruz said. “We try to keep it in perspective. The percentage is so small for playing college and pro, we must make sure we’re developing good human beings. To do that, you need to have people around them who are good human beings, and we’ve been very, very blessed to have those people.”

With so many family connections to Saint Francis—his brother Jose (BA ’01) and nephew Jason Walcutt (BA ’15) are also alumni—Cruz maintains strong affection for the university. He remembers holding some of his first futsal league practices and games at Hutzell.

“Many of my friends from Saint Francis are my good friends today; I met my wife there. My time at Saint Francis was some of the best times of my life,” he said. “God had a plan that led  me to Saint Francis and that environment was perfect for me. The experiences I had there were awesome.”

Cruz brings that positive energy to the young athletes he directs today, making sure their feet are moving in the right direction.