Philadelphia Union’s academy is loaded with talent on the U17 level. Selmir Miscic has already signed a professional contract, and Patrick Bohui and Dante Huckaby are perennial US Boys’ National Team call-ups.
But even among such leading lights of the US youth system, Danny Flores will stand out. Union academy director Tommy Wilson says, “If you could have an identikit of a No. 6, it's Danny Flores.”
A holding midfielder has a key linking role in the modern game. Not only does he protect the the back four and break up play, he must also act, at times, as the primary distributor, and balance the team’s shape when faced with a high press. Or as Wilson puts it, a No. 6 needs “that 360 degree awareness.”
This is Flores’ first year in the Philadelphia Union academy, though for any devout follower of youth soccer, his name has been known for some time. Will Parchman recently called him the “shining academy star” of the Minnesota region, and Wilson says the young man stands out for his ability to control the pace of a game. “He's one of those boys who always seems to have time. When he gets around the ball, the game seems to slow down, and that's the sign of a good player.”
The Union had been scouting Flores before they played against his former club, Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Minnesota United’s academy system still isn’t fully up and running, and Flores was beginning to push against the limits of his situation. “He was playing for their U19s,” Wilson says, “Which gives you an indication of where he is as a player.”
For Flores, the combination of the need for a new challenge and respect for the Union’s talent made him think he’d find a fit in Philly. “We played them in playoffs and I was like, ‘They're a good team!’ And when they contacted me, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I would love to go there!’ So I came and looked at it and I thought it was where I wanted to be right now.
“Because the resources they provide for you — they have a lot of resources here — and I thought it was the best decision for me at the time.”
And, importantly, Flores has adopted a common refrain among players at the Union academy: It’s a brotherhood. “They all see each other as brothers,” Flores says. “They've allowed me to adjust to them. It's been fun, I like it.”
To hear Wilson tell it, Flores is not a difficult personality to integrate into a team. “He could come in here, and because he's a starter for the national team, the World Cup team, he could be a bit arrogant or aloof,” Wilson explains, “And he's none of that.”
“I don't mind players being arrogant if they can carry it off, and he can carry it off. But he's not in the slightest.”
All the praise you hear for Flores focuses on his calmness, his intelligence, and the way he reads the game. His introduction to the Union, however, involved few of those traits. It was in Flores’ first match of the season against Virginia Development Academy. “When I saw the ball come to me, I thought, 'I think this is my chance’,” Flores says with a huge smile. “I took a touch out wide and just hit it, just placed it. It was just amazing.”
And it was truly a blast, a long sighter from well outside the box. “I was thinking the whole car ride about scoring a goal,” Flores admits, “Not even from outside the 18, just: Score a goal, celebrate with my teammates.”
Now Flores will join his new club as they host GA Cup qualifying over the weekend before flying to England to join the U17 National Team. And he’s ready for all of it. “I came in here to play with people who were better than me, to have a challenge,” Flores states. “Now I want a 3-0 run, then go to Atlanta for the second leg; just try to win GA Cup.”