Two years ago, a skinny kid with long hair showed up on the sideline during a Tempe Corona del Sol boys soccer match.
“Hey Sal,” the kid said to coach Dan Salas.
Salas didn’t know who the kid was. Then, he took a second look and recognized him. It was the boy who at halftime of his older brother’s games at Corona would always ask for a ball so he could kick it around on the field.
“I’ll see you in January,” the kid said.
And like manna from heaven, Ryan Flood dropped into Salas’ lap. Two years later, the 6-foot-2, 165-pound Flood has helped turn Corona into one of the state’s best programs. The Aztecs are ranked second by MaxPreps behind Phoenix Brophy Prep in the 6A Conference and Flood, with his 18 goals and four assists entering this week, is the biggest reason why.
Salas calls Flood the state’s best player since Riggs Lennon was the three-time player of the year for Brophy earlier this decade.
“Hands down,” Salas said. “Oh my gosh, in terms of pure soccer talent, being able to do something no one else on the field can do at any moment, Ryan possesses that quality.”
There is a calmness to Flood’s game, an awareness that as long as the ball is on his foot good things will happen. He’ll dribble, dribble, dribble with his left foot – his dominant side – and then, suddenly, unleash a cannon of a shot. The ball comes off his foot so quickly and with such power that it often surprises keepers and is beyond them before they can react.
“You know where he’s going, and at this age, kids still can’t stop it,” Salas said.
Flood always has had an affinity for the game. He can remember kicking a ball around when he was 4 years old, and he was always at the games of his older brother, Nathan, who was part of Corona’s 2010 state championship team.
“My mom told me I’d just sit there on the sidelines and play with the balls,” Flood said. “I wanted to be like my older brother.”
Which meant playing at Corona del Sol, just a few blocks from his house. But Ryan’s skills were so advanced, he received an invitation to play for the Real Salt Lake soccer academy. He competed for Real Salt Lake his freshman and sophomore years, his game growing alongside the elite competition.
“The training was just ridiculous,” Flood said. “It’s not even about the soccer ball itself. You just wind up understanding the game so much more than when you’re just playing and having fun. You see how little things connect, how to open up a defense. I was a lot smarter soccer player.”
But there was something missing at Real Salt Lake. For Flood, there was no sense of team or school spirit. Players played for themselves as much as they played for each other.
“The training was great but it was kind of a disappointment,” he said. “When I came back (over the holidays) my sophomore year and was watching (Corona), I thought, ‘That looks like a lot of fun. I wanted to do that before I left high school. At Salt Lake, it’s more of, ‘I want to get to the next level so the kid next to me I really don’t care about.’ In high school, it’s more of a family.”
And Flood is at the head of the table.
“What makes Ryan so good is his soccer IQ,” Salas said. “He’s got a natural feel for the game and his athletic movements at this stage of his career are more advanced than anyone else. It’s almost like his timing and change of speed are already at a college level.”
Flood has yet to decide where he’ll play college soccer, primarily because offers have been slow to come in as he tries to get his academics in order. His immediate focus – beyond ACT and SAT scores – is literally following in his brother’s footsteps and winning a state championship for his neighborhood school.
“I love playing for Corona,” Flood said. “I’m glad I came back.”