At the start of every season, there are always a few new faces in the mix.
John Herdman has opted to keep the group in preseason training more intimate than usual, but still there are some new voices in the mix for Toronto FC.
One of them was introduced to the media last week, Honduran midfielder Deybi Flores.
“It's just the beginning, but I am very happy with the city, with the club,” said Flores with the help of a translator. “They have welcomed me very well since I got here, so I'm looking to thank everyone on the field.”
Flores’ signing was announced on January 9, joining from Fehérvár FC of the OTP Bank Liga, the first division in Hungary.
He is no stranger to MLS, having joined Vancouver Whitecaps FC on loan in 2015 as a teenager, spending three years with the club, albeit rarely featuring for the first team, but now, at 27, Flores returns in the prime of his career, having had experiences in Europe and solidified a spot in the Honduran National Team.
“I have changed a lot,” he reflected, asked about himself in 2015 versus today. “When I came to Vancouver I was very young and maybe a little immature at the football level, but I have gone through a lot in my career, in my journey.”
“Good ones, bad experiences, but I always make sure that the bad ones are positive, learning [from them],” he continued. “They have shaped what I've been doing the last few years. I made the jump to Europe, I have been playing internationally with the national team and also at the club level, that has helped me mature, personally, and as a player, and now I hope that I can bring everything to this team.”
While he never squared up against TFC during that time, Flores was very familiar to his new coach from the international stage.
“I've had the beauty of preparing to play against Flores,” began Herdman. “For five years now we've scouted Honduras and he was always a key player.”
“What I loved about Flores is he brought the best out of [forwards Romell] Quioto and [Alberth] Elis. There was a really unique partnership that brought the team together,” he continued.
“He's one of those players that probably won't get much credit, but when you really analyze what he contributes, it’s what TFC has been missing, a real warrior spirit, a guy that wants to get in the fight, wants to provoke the fight through his aggressiveness, his competitiveness. That's the starting point.”
“And you see what he can contribute playing with higher level players, [like] Elis and Quioto. He was able to reach that next level for Honduras,” Herdman added. “He's going to bring that bite in midfield that Toronto missed last year.”
That recognition goes both ways.
“I know the knowledge and experience of the coach, I have faced him a couple of times with the national team,” laid out Flores. “He asked me to put everything, my experiences, my skills, and give it to the team.”
“I'm the kind of player that likes to give my all to the team, my 100%,” he continued.
“I always put the team first. I'm here to give everything to this team, sweat this jersey as much as I can, and be worthy of the badge.”
Flores has played against Canada three times since 2021, two of them at BMO Field, during World Cup Qualification and the Concacaf Nations League. Jonathan Osorio remembers those occasions.
“We played last year in March, that game at BMO, I’ve played him a few times before that, and this is a warrior,” said the long-time TFC and Canada midfielder. “He loves the game, loves to run for his teammates, the team camaraderie is very important to him.”
“Honestly the best word I can use to describe him is ‘warrior,’” he added. “I know that he's the type of guy that's going to give everything for the club.”
As Herdman highlighted, that tenacity in midfield has been lacking.
“That's very important, especially in the midfield, especially in this league,” said Osorio. “[Flores] has bite to him. That type of player influences the players around him to be more so that way, bringing him will create a lot more warriors in this team.”
Flores took that compliment gracefully, but stressed another element as more important.
“I am recognized as someone who's a fighter,” he said. “I always put the team as a priority.”
“In my career, my three top things are always the team, the team, and the team. I'm always going to give everything for this team,” Flores emphasized.
“I don’t like to speak much about what I can do on the field, I want to show it instead.”
It is an attitude shaped by his surroundings and experiences.
“Honduras is our beautiful country, but it's a country that has a lot of difficulties,” Flores said. “There's been a lot of things that shaped my life. I suffered a lot growing up.”
“I grew up in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in San Pedro Sula,” he continued. “I've been a fighter. I have been fighting to make sure that I have a good life. I lost my parents, I lost friends, and that has all shaped my life. I had to become independent at a young age and the situation in my house was not easy. There were times that we didn't have anything to eat and some times [where] we had been kicked out from our house because there was no money to pay the rent.”
“All those things have shaped my life,” Flores underlined. “I pretty much grew up in the streets, but that has given me the strength to continue and become the strong person that I am right now. I'm thankful to God that I've been given the opportunity to choose the right path. I continue to suffer sometimes, there have been a lot of difficult moments, but I always try to learn from the past.”
Steel in one addition, pace in another, 2024 MLS SuperDraft first-overall pick Tyrese Spicer is also with the club as preparations continue.
“I'm excited,” said Herdman of working with the Trinidadian selected from Lipscomb University. “I'm learning the transition from NCAA to MLS. I had a good insight in that from the international perspective with some of the young players, but with Tyrese there's a profile there that I was really excited about.”
“We needed to add pace in this team,” he continued. “I like to play with mavericks in the flank areas, I like to create those one-v-one duels and the two-v-one overloads out wide and having his ability is critical to the success of this team. I see him as, what we call, our wing-back/wide forward profile."
"It’s that attacking wing-back we've targeted Tyrese for; he's excited to take that on.”
“But you just don't know. Sometimes these NCAA players, Tajon Buchanan, they just go like that,” referenced Herdman, with an upward trajectory motion. “And others, they take time. We'll be working hard to see if we can close that gap. He's a confident kid. He thinks he can close the gap quickly, so I'm going to keep encouraging that mindset.”
Osorio had some words of advice to a young teammate in his first preseason: “Embrace everything.”
“Put your attention on the day in, day out routines, see what works for you, maybe have your eye on some experienced guys and see the little things, how they manage preseason,” he continued. “And just to enjoy and give your all really and to be free.”
“This is your first year, play free. There's no real expectations. We want you just to be you and be the best you can be,” Osorio added. “That's what we asked for from guys like Tyrese going into their first year.”