VANCOUVER, B.C. – Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Deybi Flores' journey to Major League Soccer has been a tale of struggle and the desire for a better life for himself and his family.
The middle child of five siblings, Flores was born and grew up in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. It's a hotbed of Honduran soccer talent and one of the most violent cities in the world. Poverty is rife, as are organized crime, street gangs and drugs. Murders were pretty much an everyday occurrence. Flores lost friends to all of that, but it was soccer and his desire to reach the "greater goal" that kept him out of the way of the dangers around him.
Flores left home at the young age of 12 to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional footballer. There were times when he had to sleep on the streets, nights when he had to go hungry, but Flores says it was "a sacrifice I had to make" to achieve his goal. It's a journey that's now led the 18-year-old (above, right) to Vancouver and to MLS.
"It was some really trying circumstances," Flores told MLSSoccer.com through a translator about his childhood in Honduras. "At a young age, having to go through certain things, you mature a lot quicker than most other people my age would. It was really just trying to find that strength to move ahead."
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A raw talent, a homeless Flores was soon discovered playing in local leagues and was whisked away to play with the junior teams at Platense, 35 miles away from his hometown. The coach there helped put a roof over his head, looking after him and keeping him on the straight and narrow.
The midfielder continued to impress at the youth level and soon signed professional terms with first-division side Motagua as a 17-year-old in 2013, going on to make 21 appearances over two seasons with the club.
When his father passed away from ill health last June, Flores' desire and need to provide for his family was exacerbated, and when the Whitecaps showed interest in the midfielder he had no hesitation in heading off to new pastures to further his footballing dreams.
"It was a huge opportunity for myself and really the main driver here was for my family," Flores says of the decision to move to Vancouver. "We were under some circumstances that weren't the best. Looking at the circumstances back home with my family and the house, it was just an opportunity to move ahead, to get ahead. It was really just a matter of making that choice for my family."
Flores first came on 'Caps coach Carl Robinson's radar when he was in Honduras scouting central defender Johnny Leverón while still an assistant under previous boss Martin Rennie. Robinson liked what he saw and kept tabs on the youngster.
When Flores joined the Whitecaps in February on a season-long loan from Motagua with an option to buy, the initial thinking was that Robinson had made the signing with an eye on the organization's new USL team. But after an impressive 18-minute MLS debut as a sub against Portland, it became clear that the Whitecaps have bigger plans for the midfielder.
Flores has now made three MLS appearances, getting his first start in the team's loss to San Jose this past weekend. He appears mature beyond his years – not surprising, considering the life and journey that have taken him from living on the streets of Honduras to Canada. He's had to grow up quicker than most, and that comes across on the field.
That experience, and that of playing against much older pros for the past two years, has helped him settle in to his new surroundings immediately, and he is relishing the challenge that the increased quality of competition MLS presents for him.
"They're completely different leagues," Flores says of the differences between Major League Soccer and the Honduran Liga Nacional. "MLS is a good league, it's a very strong league and it's a lot more technical. There's a lot of good teams and development in Honduras but it's just a different style.
"[MLS] is a lot more back-and-forth. There's different tactics involved, and it's also a great opportunity for me to learn and develop different styles of play and add that to my game."
Flores came to MLS with the defensive midfielder tag, but in the games he has played so far, he's shown an attacking desire that perhaps isn't seen in Vancouver's other options at the position, making him a possibility as the box-to-box player the Whitecaps seek. For Flores though, that's just the bonus side to his game.
"First and foremost for me, it's defense," Flores stresses. "That's where all the attacks start, so that's where I started playing as a kid. It's really just ingrained, winning that first ball and then linking up with the attack. So it all just starts from the defensive side of things. Then when the opportunity presents itself, you move forward.
"In that position, you can't just sit back. When the opportunities to go forward come up, it's a matter of being smart and playing the ball properly and taking care of those defensive responsibilities first and then going forward."
That ethos has seen Flores become a key player for the Honduran Under-20 national team, and he is expected to miss about a month for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which runs May 30-June 20. He's not taking anything for granted, but that carrot is spurring him on to make his mark with his new club.
"My big goal was to make it to Canada, and now that I'm here, it's just a matter of getting down, doing the work and fighting for a spot in the starting 11," Flores says. "Putting myself in the best position to get a callup to the national team and then, once I'm there, just keep doing what I'm doing and just fight hard for that spot, first here with the club and then hopefully those appearances will lead to greater things with the national team."
Flores appears to be another success story in the Whitecaps' scouting of Central and South American talent, but it's perhaps the story behind the player that is the biggest success of all.