Jorge Flores, a skinny 17-year old soccer player with spiky hair and a ponytail, has a real quickness for getting to the ball. But his speedy reflexes are nothing compared to the lightning-fast jump he made from an Anaheim High senior to a member of Chivas USA's squad.
Last winter Flores' uncle talked him into entering a reality TV show called "MLS Dream: Chivas USA Wants You." It was a nationwide tryout with more than 2,000 participants shown on Univision in February and March. When Flores won, he traveled to Miami and was interviewed during a show.
"I really thought my dream was going to happen in Mexico" with a pro team, Jorge said recently in Spanish. "But things happen for a reason. When you get a chance you can't let it get away, and you have to give it your all."
Flores, a forward, didn't waste his chance with Chivas USA's under-19 team, leading the team in goals during a trip to Guadalajara where it played against its counterparts for Chivas de Guadalajara, Atlas and Tecos of UAG, among others. Flores missed his high school graduation for that trip, but when he came back he was invited to practice with the senior Chivas USA roster.
He knew practicing alongside Chivas players such as Ante Razov, Jesse Marsch and Claudio Suarez was an opportunity of a lifetime and took it as such.
"The kid has talent, he's shown that. But what I've really liked is that he puts a lot of effort into everything," said Suarez, Chivas' USA captain and a member of three World Cups for Mexico. Suarez sees a lot of similarities between Flores and himself at that age.
"I didn't have a lot of talent, but I showed the same type of enthusiasm in practice that I have on game days and that helped me," Suarez said. "The coaches begin to trust you more when you do that. He has shown that, and that's why he's getting this opportunity."
This week Flores took another quantum leap when he signed a Chivas contract for the $12,900 MLS minimum for a developmental squad player. Flores traveled with the team and on Thursday was activated before Chivas' win over the New York Red Bulls, but he didn't play. Flores may get into Sunday's game against the Kansas City Wizards, and he will certainly play for the team's developmental squad match the next day.
"At times I feel like it's a dream," his mother Juanita Flores said. "Like if I pinch myself I'll wake up."
The family rents a room in a guesthouse owned by Juanita's sister in Anaheim. On a recent day, Juanita watched her son joyfully play with a soccer ball in the backyard of this house she and Jorge live in with 11 other relatives. To her, it's an amazing sight seeing him play soccer with his cousin and stepfather.
Flores was born in Anaheim. At 2, he was taken to Mexico by his mother after she was having marital problems. Juanita Flores says that Jorge's father tried to kidnap him at a young age.
After a while, money became scarce and Juanita Flores moved back to the U.S, having to leave her son with relatives in Guanajuato. "It was a very sad chapter in my life. But I did it to give him a better future," she said. Jorge visited his mother during the summers, but it wasn't until three years ago that they were reunited when Jorge moved to Anaheim.
He struggled with his English the first year at Anaheim High and felt awkward being around people who seemed as if they were friends since birth. On the weekends he would help his stepfather clean a church near their house and after work they would kick a soccer ball around.
His stepfather, Gustavo Leon Bonilla, played soccer in Mexico. Jorge grew up in the same city as his stepfather in Penjamo, Guanajuato, Mexico, in the central part of the country. Like Jorge, Gustavo had dreams of being a pro soccer player.
Jorge learned the sport by playing with neighborhood kids on the dirt streets of Penjamo. But just as his soccer skills were beginning to get noticed, he moved to Anaheim.
He was set to enroll this fall at Fullerton College before his MLS dream came true.
Chivas USA Coach Preki has been impressed with Jorge's approach to the game. "He's very mature for his age and that's what you want. When you find guys that are matured at a young age it's a big upside," Preki said.
Flores' work ethic also impressed Chivas USA director of soccer Dennis Te Kloese. "If he loses a ball, he goes back. If he sees an opportunity to steal a ball, which is rare from a forward, he takes it," Te Kloese said. "He works hard, gives a lot of effort and you can't take that away from him."
Te Kloese points out something else he likes about Flores. When Te Kloese got to the Home Depot Center early one day he saw Flores all alone in the dressing room.
"He was the first player there and he was dressed and ready to go," Te Kloese said. "I know he's young, and probably a little nervous, but those type of things are going to take him far."