BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, September 19, 2012
As the US U-17 team moves towards World Cup qualifying in less than six months, all eyes are on Junior Flores who has emerged as the team's key player this cycle.
Flores, 16, has been the team's leading play maker this cycle playing a true number 10 role for the team. In the U-17s recent series of games, he was instrumental in the comeback against Missouri's Gallagher when they rallied from a 2-0 deficit for a 3-2 win.
Just a few days later, they fell behind to the Crew's Academy team 2-0 but fell short in their comeback and lost 2-1.
We knew the Academy team was good. In the first half of the game we were asleep and fell behind 2-0. At halftime the coaching staff just told us to keep going and we won 3-2.
Despite the close games, the U-17s managed to play attractive soccer against teams with players who as much as two years older. In the end, it's part of an aggressive push to play against quality opposition ahead of World Cup qualifying.
"That's how we always play," Flores told YA after the game against the Crew Academy. "Simple balls, 1-2 touch, through-balls. We're really focusing in on [qualifying]. Every day we're working hard. We're pushing hard and everyone wants to earn a spot for qualifying."
Flores first came to national attention in December at the Nike Friendlies when he put in stellar performances in wins over Brazil and Turkey. Since then, however, the team has undergone a coaching change as Richie Williams has taken over for Wilmer Cabrera.
Under Williams, the U-17s have continued to play an attractive style and Flores feel the team is better with the former US international in charge.
"The transition was a little weird because we weren't used to the new coach coming in," Flores said of Williams. "Everyone thought it was going to be hard for the coaching staff to get closer to each other but right away the staff was terrific. The environment on how he gets us into practice, how he talks to us, how he wants us to work hard every single day is amazing. Richie coming in has made us a better group."
For Williams, he makes no secret that that Flores is a big part of his plans for the team moving forward into World Cup qualifying early next year and the World Cup next summer. One of the key components of Flores' games that Williams appreciates is his work ethic.
"He's a very good player," Williams said. "He's one of our better players. He's got a bright future and I think a lot of these guys do. He's good on the ball and good running at players. He's going to try to create and try to score goals. He works very hard for a number 10. He's not lazy at all. He's a good kid. We're really happy with him."
Flores' plans after the U-17 team are unclear as he will clearly have options overseas and in the United States to begin his professional career. For now, he is focused on leading the team into the World Cup next summer in the United Arab Emirates.
The Manassas, Virginia knows that the competition will be tough but he likes the US team's chances.
"I think this is going a good competition," Flores concluded. "All the teams in Europe are great. The US is developing fast with better players and we'll push them."