GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Sunday league and playing indoor with his friends in Pasadena, California: That’s where 20-year-old Dennis Flores says he was at with his stalling soccer career just a few short years ago.
Fast forward to today, and the attacking midfielder has already debuted for Club León’s first team, was part of the squad that won consecutive Liga MX championships in 2013-14 and was called into the US U-23 national team earlier this month for a training camp in the Bahamas.
“I remember being at home watching their games when this team [León] was promoted to the first division [in May 2012],” said Flores, reminiscing over the phone from León last week. “I never thought I’d be out here with them. It never crossed my mind. It’s amazing. I’m very thankful.”
Before a trial organized by Alianza de Futbol – a US-based network which attracts scouts from US Soccer and an array of Mexican first-division clubs – Flores admitted he was “fading away,” but was not giving up and “always stayed active.”
“When my opportunity came up,” he said. “I took advantage.”
Flores was spotted by León at the trial, headed south for a two-week tryout and signed for the Liga MX’s reigning champions. The crafty, technical player has trained regularly with the first team since then and featured in two games last spring, although he plays mainly with La Fiera’s U-20s at present.
Like the move south to Mexico, the recent call-up to the United States U-23 squad was a surprise to Flores, a Pasadena native who had no idea US Soccer was even aware of him. But he is delighted to be part of the player pool heading toward the Olympics.
“It was amazing to be able to represent my country,” said Flores, whose parents are from the Mexican state of Puebla. “It was an honor.”
Flores played the second half and scored against the Bahamas senior national team in the US U-23s' 5-1 victory, but he did not talk too much to coach Tab Ramos, who was overseeing the Aug. 3-7 camp in Nassau, Bahamas along with Andi Herzog and Javier Perez.
“After the game, he just said, ‘Great job,’” explained Flores, who will turn 21 in September. “It was my first time being with them, and maybe this was his first time seeing me play, so we never really had that talk.”
The next step for the youngster is developing at León, with one eye on getting more call-ups with the United States ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. Flores says he is happy with La Fiera, likes coach Gustavo Matosas’ style – “He doesn’t like going back too much; he’s all about attack” – and has been taken under the wing of Mexico international midfielder Luis Montes.
“[Montes] has always helped me since the day I got here,” said Flores. “He’s always told me what is right and what’s wrong. Playing against him and just being able to watch him daily, you learn so much.”
But for all the elements that indicate Flores is simply enjoying the ride, there is a steely resolve behind the gratitude at where his career is at now compared to where it was.
“I look up to them,” stated Flores, talking about León’s star players like Montes, Carlos Peña, José Juan Vázquez and the recently-transferred Rafa Márquez. “It makes me want to practice, get better and maybe one day even become better than them.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.