Bryan Flores is obviously the same person he was last year. He’s not nearly the same soccer player, though.
Last year Flores was a little-used reserve player, one of the last on Mattituck’s bench. “He didn’t play much,” coach Will Hayes said. “He came to practice every single day with a smile on his face and just kept grinding.”
Flores participated in a couple of indoor practices over the winter, but didn’t play for Mattituck’s summer league team. Hayes wasn’t even sure if Flores would come out for the team in training camp before receiving a text message.
Then, Hayes saw the new and improved Flores, who is taller and stronger. The senior left wing reported to camp fit and ready.
What has changed since last season?
Flores laughed at the question and replied, “I just play a lot better.”
When senior center midfielder Jack Burkhardt was asked if he has noticed any surprises this season, he looked at Flores and said: “I guess Bryan Flores, right here. Didn’t play at all last year, scoring all these goals all of a sudden. Hidden talent.”
With Flores’ opening goal in Mattituck’s 3-0 home win over Pierson/Bridgehampton on Thursday, he became the team’s goal-scoring leader with four (he also has two assists). That’s four more goals than he had last year in his first varsity season.
“I knew I was going to come back this season and try to make an impact on the team,” said Flores, who spent the summer training by himself or with friends.
Whereas Flores only saw game action against weaker teams or in blowouts last year, he has started most of Mattituck’s games so far this season.
Mattituck has three regular team captains (Jack Burkhardt, Oswald Cuellar and Chris Nicholson), with a fourth rotating captain appointed for every game. Flores was given that armband for the team’s third game, a 1-0 loss at Hampton Bays.
“He came off the bench,” Hayes recalled. “He gave us some quality minutes … and he kind of didn’t look back.
“He just kept playing. He’s playing too well to take him out, and then he kind of exploded against Babylon with two fantastic goals.”
It was Flores who ran the length of the field to latch onto a Berkan Ilgin cross and absorbed a heavy tackle while scoring the game-winning goal against Greenport Tuesday.
“It’s not that he’s doing anything spectacular,” Hayes said, “he’s just doing everything special.”
Flores was in the right spot at the right time Thursday when he won a header off a corner kick. The ball bounced around a bit in the six-yard box before he side-footed it in for a 1-0 lead 7 minutes and 36 seconds into the game. (The game was stopped with 15:12 left in the second half because driving, torrential rain made for unsafe conditions on the grass field.)
Before the half ended, Burkhardt deposited a right-wing service from Ilgin in for his third goal of the season. Matt Czujko, assisted by Burkhardt, drilled in the third goal in the second half.
Mattituck goalkeeper Emmett Ryan played a solid game for his second shutout. He denied Luis Paredes of what looked like a sure goal with a point-blank save in the first half and made a number of fine clearances with his feet. “All season he’s been playing amazing,” said Burkhardt.
The defense of Nicholson, Billy Hickox, Jude Couch and Danny Puluc was “excellent,” said Hayes. They were part of the reason that Mattituck (5-3 overall and in Suffolk County League VII) held a 17-2 shots advantage and had all eight of the game’s corner kicks.
The last 15 minutes or so were played in a downpour. Burkhardt, for one, liked playing in the rain.
“It was fun, probably the most fun game I ever played in, to be honest,” he said. “There was so much water coming down, it was just all getting in my eyes. I couldn’t really see very much.”
What Hayes has seen from Flores, though, has been plenty of good stuff.
“It’s not that he’s just scoring goals,” the coach said. “It’s what he’s doing on the defensive side of the ball as well. He is really a two-way player … He’s grown so much as a player and as a person. He’s just kind of got this indomitable spirit already, and then you [add] on the fact that his first touch is quality and he makes good decisions on the ball and he’s safe.”
What a difference a year makes.
Photo caption: Bryan Flores tucked in Mattituck’s first goal — and his fourth strike of the season — in a 3-0 home win over Pierson/Bridgehampton on Thursday. (Credit: Bob Liepa)