Local soccer prodigy raising money for England tryouts

In just a few years, if everything goes to plan, the city of Winters could become associated with a once-little known professional soccer player named Claudio Reyes.
Claudio Reyes, the former captain of the Winters High School soccer team, is raising money to attend a showcase tryout in England with the hopes of launching a professional soccer career. Photo by Matthew Keys

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In just a few years, if everything goes to plan, the city of Winters could become associated with a once-little known professional soccer player named Claudio Reyes.

Reyes, 18, is on the road to stardom, and he could put Winters on the map. He isn’t there just yet, but he has the ambition, the talent and the drive to make it big. The only thing standing in the way of his dream is an ocean separating two continents and a few hundred dollars.

For the last several weeks, members of the community — mostly people from Winters High School, where Reyes was captain of the boys soccer team last year — have pitched in to help send Reyes and his brother to a soccer combine in England where coaches from different European teams will be on hand to scout for fresh, new talent.

Reyes has lived in Winters his entire life. When he was 8 years old, his parents asked him a question that would change his life: Do you want to play youth soccer?

They signed him up for a local club affiliated with the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO). At first, Reyes said he enjoyed playing because it gave him something to do for fun. But after a few years, he realized playing soccer was his passion, something he wanted to keep doing and eventually turn into a full-time career.

“This is my passion,” Reyes said during an interview with the Express on Monday. “I live for this. I’ve been playing for 10 years, and over the last four years I’ve taken it more seriously.”

Seriously enough to try out for the Davis Legacy Soccer Club four years ago. He got in, playing first for the league’s Team A for three years and eventually moving down to Team B last year. He also played for the Winters High soccer team every year of high school and last year was promoted to captain of the team — a responsibility he took very seriously.

“It was a big responsibility, because when the team was down 1-0, or when they were not feeling like we were going to do well, I had to take it upon myself to try to cheer everyone up, to keep them motivated and stay in the game,” Reyes said. “They counted a lot on me, not just because they thought I was good but because of the ambition I have — the ambition I have to keep fighting made them keep fighting as well.”

Reyes took the soccer team to playoffs last year — only the top 10 teams in the league qualify for playoffs — and although they got knocked out in the first round, he said the whole team played really well.

While all of this is going on, Reyes maintained his grades and helped watch his three younger brothers while his parents worked. He graduated in May with a 3.3 Grade Point Average.

It didn’t take long for colleges to start finding him. In his junior year, he was contacted by York St. John University in the United Kingdom with an offer to play soccer at their academy. He quickly accepted, but after a while, he realized he had larger ambitions.

“I wanted to go bigger than just the school, so I reached out to a couple of coaches and they invited me to go out to Southern California for a tryout for three days,” Reyes said. He asked the organizers of the tryout, Pro Soccer Consulting, if his younger brother Kevin could go as well. They agreed.

The brothers went to Southern California earlier this year where they competed against nearly four dozen other players in front of coaches from several different professional soccer clubs.

“They did games every single day,” Reyes said. They placed him and his brother in different teams throughout the combine, except for the last match where they played together. At the end of the tryout, Reyes and his brother were invited to an elite showcase in England where they’d play before a number of coaches from international soccer clubs.

The trip to England is expensive, and Reyes and his family are scrambling to come up with the money to fund the trip. His parents, both of whom migrated from Mexico, work full-time; his dad works as a superintendent and his mom works in a warehouse. Reyes takes on the responsibility of looking after his younger brothers — Kevin, 15; Eric, 10 and Levi, 7 — while his parents are at work.

Reyes has worked himself to fund some of his trip, according to people familiar with his efforts. But he still needs help, and members of the community have pitched in over the last several weeks to help him raise the funds he needs for him and his brother to go to the tryouts in England.

One of those who helped give Reyes a leg up is Kim Olivas, a school librarian and a coach with the girls’ soccer team. Olivas said she’s known the Reyes kids since the fourth and fifth grade and was happy to help start a GoFundMe campaign after learning Reyes needed money for the trip.

“He’s so passionate about the game and his skills are great,” Olivas said. “I would just love to see him have the opportunity.”

So, too, have a number of other residents: To date, the “Claudio’s soccer dream” campaign started by Olivas has raised nearly $600. Reyes said a number of other people have also helped him out, including Angela Stone, Kim Hagy and his trainer Jules Damey. Reached by e-mail Monday evening, Damey noted that despite coming into last season with a few injuries, Reyes pushed himself hard to do better and persevere.

“His commitment was admirable,” Damey said. “He didn’t need any reminder to push himself harder. If anything, I had to remind him to rest more as opposed to train more.”

Tenacity, determination and desire — those are the ingredients that make for a star athlete. Reyes checks all of those boxes and so much more. Now he just needs one more thing: Opportunity. And for that, he needs a few more people from the community to step up and invest in his future.

If you’d like to donate to the “Claudio’s soccer dreams” campaign on GoFundMe, visit http://bit.ly/claudiosoccer.

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