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Soccer: Eighth-grader Vicente Reyes shows star potential in goal

The theory in the Reyes family is this: Vicente Reyes’ great-great grandfather on his mother’s side was really, really tall, around seven feet.

That’s the best guess they have regarding the genetic origins of Vicente’s height, because he’s 14 years old and well over six feet, and nobody else in his family – not his mother, or father, or older brother, or two sisters – is taller than 5-foot-10.

Vicente’s height used to be an obstacle. He grew early, around when he started playing soccer competitively, and he was slower and more awkward than many of his teammates and opponents.

“He was just this big, lanky kid who had no touch,” said Carlos Reyes, Vicente’s brother.

But when Vicente was 11, his father, Carlos Sr., had the idea of moving him to goalkeeper. The first time his father took him to a camp for the position, Vicente cried. After an hour or so, he decided he liked it.

It turned out that the height and long limbs that had once worked against Vicente made him something close to a prodigy in goal. After about two years at the position, he tried out for and made the Atlanta United academy, which plays at the highest level of club soccer in the country.

And in the past year, the eighth-grader at Liberty Middle School has had stints with the two different national teams, raising the possibility of a very difficult decision in the future.

Half of the Vicente’s family is from Chile. His parents grew up in Concepción, a city in the central part of the country, and Carlos Sr. played goalkeeper for the academy team of Lota Schwager, a club currently in the country’s third tier, before deciding to go to university. Carlos Jr., currently a senior at West Forsyth and a productive forward for the Wolverines’ soccer team, was born in Chile.

Around 17 years ago, the company Carlos Sr. worked for as a computer engineer transferred him to Charleston, S.C. The initial plan was to have him there for just a year, but the family has now been in the U.S. for 17 years. Vicente and his two sisters were born in Charleston, and the rest of the family has become U.S. citizens.

That dream almost fell apart, though. When the recession hit late in the last decade, Carlos Sr.’s employer decided to abandon its operations in the U.S. Carlos Sr. was offered a position back in Chile, but with the family having put roots down in the country, he tried to look for another job. He didn’t hear anything for a few months, and almost decided to move the family back to Chile.

- photo by Bradley Wiseman
The job search had a happy ending: Kimberly-Clark offered Carlos Sr. a position at a business analyst at the company’s offices in Roswell. The family had to leave the relationships formed in South Carolina, but they could stay in the U.S.

And the move played a major role in kicking off Vicente’s soccer career. He joined a club team at United Futbol Academy, which offered a higher level of competition and coaching than anything his family could find in South Carolina. With Atlanta United, Vicente doesn’t need to go farther than Marietta for training. His performance with the club netted him a stint in training camp with the U.S. National Team’s U-14 squad in 2017, and another with the U-16 squad in March.

Vicente’s height and agility let him reach shots out of the range of the vast majority of his peers. His time has a field player has kept his passing skills sharp, and while he’s on the introverted side off the field, he takes leadership of his team’s defense during games.

All of those qualities are visible in videos of Vicente uploaded on YouTube from his brother’s account, and, apparently, they caught the eye of some people very high up in the international soccer ranks. Last September, Vicente received a follow request on Instagram from a Chilean account. He accepted, and soon the account was messaging him and asking to talk with his father.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to respond or not,” Vicente said. “Because I was thinking maybe (it was) a fake account or a stalker. And then I was like, ‘I’ll give it a try.’”

It was a scout for the Chilean national team. The scout asked to talk with Carlos Sr., and they eventually worked out a plan for Vicente to come to Chile to play with the U15 team in a tournament in December. Vicente played in two games, against the U-17 Mexican National Team and the Mexican club Chivas.

The tournament wasn’t Vicente’s first time in Chile, but it was his closest exposure to the country’s soccer culture. He saw the passion for the sport in South America, much more intense than anything seen in the U.S. He had to adjust to a game that was faster and more skillful than he was used to.

He also came to understand that for many Chilean players, soccer is more than a game – it’s a path to a better life, and often the only one available.

“We don't have all the resources (in Chile) that we can find here,” Carlos Sr. said. “The stadium is not nice like this, but the level of the soccer, the pressure, the environment you can find is something that is difficult to describe. I was involved in that, and I like it. I wanted him to feel the same thing.”

Vicente still keeps in touch with some of the players he met on the Chilean team, and he’s still in the pool of players the country draws from for its national teams. And so long as he’s playing in youth competition – anything below the senior squad – or in friendlies, he can switch freely between Chile and the U.S.

And regarding the far-off, still-hypothetical decision of what senior squad Vicente would play for, he’s noncommittal.

“I don't know, to be honest,” Vicente said. “I love both of them.”

The Reyes family holds tight to its Chilean roots, speaking Spanish, eating the country’s cuisine and watching Chilean television. All their other family members are back in Chile, so Vicente had visited the country plenty of times before his stint with the national teams.

Vicente could be considered one of the more American members of his family. His Spanish skills are inferior to those of his brother – Carlos Jr. said that Vicente would answer in English when his parents spoke to him in Spanish – and it was obvious to his teammates down in Chile, who would call Vicente “gringo.”

Carlos Jr., for one, thinks Vicente would opt for the U.S.

“Honestly, I think he’s a little mama’s boy,” Carlos Jr. said jokingly. “He’s not going to want to leave.”

That decision is firmly in the future, though. Vicente has more immediate matters to focus on, like his performance with Atlanta United – he hopes to make the U-17 team by next year – and the prospect of starting high school, even though he almost certainly won’t play for the Wolverines.

For all of the different coaches, teammates and opponents Vicente has seen, he maintains a stone-faced demeanor when talking about his experiences.

Carlos Jr. is more open about the significance of everything. The brothers would talk about the possibility of playing professionally, and now, Vicente is on that path. His brother is convinced that time and experience will give him perspective.

“He's living in the moment,” Carlos Jr. said. “He's only 14 – he doesn't know what he's doing so far. But once he gets a little bit older, he's going to look back and he's going to smile about what he's accomplished so far.”