MUSKEGON – Miguel Flores has scored a lot of goals in his soccer career, but the one he put in the net on Sunday in Iowa was pretty special.

It was not only his first goal of the new season, but his first since he suffered an MCL sprain last season and had to miss the last four games of the Risers’ season, including two exciting playoff games.

At the time of his injury Flores was leading the Major Arena Soccer League 2 with 21 goals, and his absence left a glaring hole in the Muskegon lineup.

The Risers carried on bravely in Flores’ absence and did very well in the playoffs, beating Chicago but losing a thriller to Cleveland in the league semifinals. We will never know how they would have done if their big scorer had been healthy.

Risers star Miguel Flores, who led the league in scoring for much of last season but had to miss the playoffs due to an injury. Photo/Jeremy Clark

“It was a point I never thought I’d experience,” Flores said. “I had never had an injury like that which kept me out so long.

“I’ve thought about how the season went. We were lucky enough to advance after I got hurt, which was awesome. We had a few other guys out, too, and for us to still get some wins was great. I don’t know if we would have won (the semifinal game against Cleveland) if I would have played.”

Flores is completely healthy now and collected his first goal of the 2022-23 season on Sunday in an 8-6 loss to the Iowa Raptors. He will be on the field on Saturday night when the Risers host the Iowa Demon Hawks in their home opener.

“It felt good,” Flores said about scoring a goal in the second game of the season. “It just took the burden off my back. I had a lot of pregame jitters once we got to Iowa. It took me awhile to settle down and knock off some rust. Now I just need to keep the ball rolling.”

First-year Risers coach Michael Vollmer, a former goalie for the team, knows how important it is to have Flores on the field.

“He is such a difference-maker,” Vollmer said. “He’s so fast, he has technical abilities and one hell of a shot.

“He is just that factor for us. He’s a leader in the locker room, a 20-plus goal scorer every year, and you just don’t find those types out on the street. When he gets going, this team thrives. He takes us to a whole other level.”

Flores, a former star at Muskegon High School and Muskegon Community College, was on the first Risers indoor team in 2016-17, and scored a goal in the team’s very first victory, a 4-0 win over Youngstown on Jan. 15, 2017.

Flores grabs his knee in pain after suffering his season-ending injury last March. Photo/Jeremy Clark

He played two years at Davenport College after that, which kept him out of the Risers’ lineup. He was eager to return in 2020, but the season was cancelled due to COVID.

The Risers were limited to just three games in 2021 due to continuing issues with COVID, but Flores showed up and played, anyway. He led the team with six goals that season, including three in the final game, a 10-9 come-from behind win over the visiting Colorado Inferno.

The Risers finally resumed a full schedule as members of the Major Arena Soccer League 2 last season and Flores flourished.

He had some huge games, scoring four goals in a home win over Chicago, three goals (including the game-winner in overtime) in a home win over Cincinnati, and three goals in a road loss at Cleveland.

Flores’ huge scoring totals attracted the attention of at least one team in the Major Arena Soccer League 1, and officials from that club contacted the Risers about his possible availability. But Flores announced at the time that he would pass up the chance for a promotion and remain in Muskegon for the rest of the season.

Flores, seen in action last season, is a former Muskegon High School and Muskegon Community College soccer standout. 

Part of the reason he stayed was his loyalty to Risers fans. Flores has always been extremely popular with the people in the stands, and he returns the love.

“It’s just about playing for the city and seeing everybody in the stands,” Flores said last season. “That’s what drives me. They get me going.”

Unfortunately his season ended with his injury on March 5, in the next-to-last game of the regular season. It occurred early in the second half when his leg got tangled with another player’s leg, his knee popped and he fell to the turf in obvious pain.

He worked hard to return to the lineup for the playoff semifinal game against Cleveland, but realized a few days before the matchup that he would not be able compete.

But last season is history, the 2022-23 season is underway, and Flores is determined to help the Risers recover from their two season-opening road losses last weekend and push for a conference and league title.

“I’m really excited for this season,” he said. “We have a lot of guys who are new to the arena game and are still learning. Last year was really the same way. We’re not down and out just yet. We’re just starting, and we have a lot of promising guys who can play. Once we start clicking, I think we have a good chance to make a deep run.”

“I’ve been with this club for so long, it just feels right to come back and finish what we started. I want to get a championship for this city. I want to fulfill that goal and we deserve it.”