VANCOUVER, BC – It’s hard to fathom that Deybi Flores is only 19 years old, because he’s already been through more than many people do in a lifetime.
Murders and gang activity, a devastating hurricane, and the deaths of close friends and family; growing up in San Pedro Sula, one of the most violent cities in the world, the Honduran midfielder has seen it all.
Then there’s the fact that he left home at the age of 12 to pursue his dream of becoming a professional soccer player.
Just let that sink in for a second.
“I was put in circumstances that not a lot of people my age have gone through,” said Flores, who has agreed to a multi-year contract extension with Whitecaps FC. “I went hungry at times, I had to sleep out on the street at times, but these sacrifices were all for my objective of becoming a professional footballer.”
For Flores, that was always the goal. And, in a way, it helped save his life.
Flores described the neighbourhood he grew up in as “rough.” Since 2011, San Pedro Sula has had the world’s highest murder rate, according to various reports. Last year, the city had a rate of 171.20 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
It’s also a hub for drug and gang activity – something Flores witnessed more than once.
“You watch some people that you were close with go down the wrong path, joining gangs and that sort of stuff,” Flores said. “I have some friends who were killed because they got into the wrong types of circles, you know. At the same time, there were people who were my so-called friends offering me drugs, to go out drinking, and I just had the strength to stay away from all of that because I had a greater goal in mind.”
“I just had the strength to stay away from all that because I had a greater goal in mind.” - Flores
That greater goal of becoming a professional soccer player is also the reason why Flores left home at the age of 12 to join Platense Júnior, based about an hour outside of San Pedro Sula. He credits the team’s coach Charlie Zuniga for putting a roof over his head and helping him along.
Leaving home at such a young age still wasn’t easy, but it had the desired effect.
At the age of 15, Flores was discovered by first division side C.D. Motagua – one of Honduras’ most renowned and successful clubs, and a staunch rival of Olimpia. So he made the move to Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital city, and spent two seasons with Motagua, starting 16 of his 21 appearances. The youngster also helped the team win the 2014-15 Apertura season and broke into the Honduran youth national team.
Things were going well, but his family was still under “trying circumstances.”
In June 2014, Flores’ father tragically passed away from a health-related condition – leaving behind Flores and his four siblings as well as their mother. Understandably, Flores chokes up when talking about it.
To try and make ends meet, Flores’ mother is currently working in a “maquila,” also known as a “maquiladora” or textile factory. And his brothers and sisters (he has two of each) are either in school or looking for work.
Then there’s Flores.
After impressing at the 2014 FIFA U-20 CONCACAF Championship with Honduras, the ‘Caps came calling. It was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up – both professionally and personally.
“It was a huge opportunity for me, but the driving force was my family,” Flores said. “Looking at the circumstances back home … it was just an opportunity to get ahead. It was just a matter of making that choice for my family.”
Flores’ face lights up when you ask him about life in Vancouver.
His gratitude towards the club – from his teammates to the coaching staff and support staff – for making him feel welcome is readily apparent.
“They’ve given me everything I need,” said Flores, who made three appearances for the Honduran team at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup last May and June, where he was teammates with C.D. Olimpia players Alberth Elis and Michael Chirinos. “It’s been great. I’m just hoping to repay that with a lot of hard work on the field.”
Flores started 11 of his 15 total appearances with the 'Caps in his first year with the club. And on Monday Whitecaps FC confirmed that Flores will be returning on a multi-year contract extension.
Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson, who actually first identified Flores over two years ago when he was scouting former 'Caps defender Johnny Leveron, knows there's a lot of room for growth with the young midfielder but can see the potential there.
“He had the raw talent you want in any midfield player,” Robinson said when asked of his first impressions of Flores. “He was mentally and physically tough, he was athletic, he could tackle, he could run, he could get forward, and his awareness was very high for someone so young. All the attributes you want in a top young player he had, which is why he’s at the club now.”
Playing in Major League Soccer, which Flores called a more “tactical” league than the Honduran first division, has been an adjustment. But he’s quickly getting up to speed with his new surroundings.
It’s a similar story off the pitch.
While moving to a new country is nothing compared to some of the trials and tribulations he’s faced, it’s still a new country with a completely different culture. Keep in mind that Flores is still a teenager who never really had a real childhood or formal education. His English is also very limited.
One person who’s helped ease the transition is Whitecaps FC defender Kendall Waston. Like Flores, Waston hails from Central America. So he and his wife Priscilla have had Flores over for dinner on numerous occasions and cooked him Central American dishes to "make him feel like home." They've also shown him around the city and helped him with things like online banking.
"From what I’ve seen, he’s anxious to grow as a player and as a person," Waston said. "He’s coming here with the mentality to succeed. And he wants to do anything that is possible to get better every day."
The always-personable Costa Rican has been “like a big brother,” Flores said, adding that Priscilla has been very supportive as well.
“I’m really grateful for their generosity, their hospitality, and their friendship,” Flores said. “I’m just taking everything they say to heart and trying to implement it in my personal life and my professional life as well. It’s been great having people like that looking out for me.”
After everything he’s been through, it’s the least he deserves.
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