As the family story goes, when Cris Arias took his first baby steps, he was heading toward a soccer ball.
All these years later, Arias may be headed to a professional soccer career. In the meantime, the 15-year-old sophomore is playing for Riverhead High School.
Arias said he, his family and agent are waiting for Major League Soccer teams to contact him with offers. “Just being patient and we’ll see from there because [I] just need better opportunities for me and my family,” he said.
Arias spent three years each in the academies of MLS’s two New York metropolitan area clubs, the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC. Now he’s hoping to take his game to the next level.
While the waiting game continued, Arias approached Riverhead coach Evan Philcox several practices into the preseason and asked if he could play for the Blue Waves. “My jaw dropped,” Philcox said, “and I was like, ‘Yeah, sure we can do that. We can make that happen.’ ”
Arias was originally slotted in as a right back, the thought being that when he does sign an MLS contract, his eventual departure would not be as disruptive to the Blue Waves. That lasted for one scrimmage before Riverhead worked him into the midfield. Right midfield is his natural position.
Then, with Riverhead in a scoring slump, Philcox moved Arias to forward Friday and Arias responded with his team-leading fifth goal of the season in a 3-3 draw in 100 minutes of soccer against visiting Sachem North at Pulaski Sports Complex.
Riverhead’s goal drought ended, along with a four-game losing streak.
Rivera’s goal off an Arias corner kick with 18 minutes, 39 seconds left in the second half ultimately forced two additional 10-minute overtime periods.
The Suffolk County League II game had a bit of everything — yellow cards (seven, five to the Sachem North side), plenty of shots (22 by each team), big saves, injury stoppages, action, a fan ejection and, of course, a healthy dose of goals.
Riverhead (2-8-1, 0-5-1) entered the game having not scored a goal in over four hours of soccer. That scoreless streak came to an end when Arias levelled the score, 1-1, at 22:55. Arias spun after receiving a pass in midfield from Leo Chinchilla and bolted 40 yards before applying a right-footed finish past goalkeeper Chris Lally.
Sophomore defender Oscar Serafico broke his leg in Riverhead’s previous game, a 1-0 loss at Newfield two days earlier.
“Last night I went to Oscar’s house,” Arias said. “I told him I’m gonna score one of the best goals I ever scored in my life and I did.”
Riverhead pulled itself back in the game in the second half. Arias drew a foul and his 30-yard free kick was deflected, allowing Tawayne Hinds the opportunity to strike at 50:13.
Sachem North (3-4-3, 1-2-2) received goals from Brayden Verbanac, Zach DeMilt and Evan Kozak.
Riverhead goalkeeper Gerardo Tespan played a tremendous game. Among the senior’s nine saves were some gems. Verbanac had a clear shot at goal in the first half, only to see Tespan block it with a foot save. In the second half, Tespan once again denied Verbanac on a point-blank attempt and took a boot in the face for it. Less than two minutes into the first overtime, Tespan made a spectacular parry of a Kozak shot.
Arias has magic feet, a powerful left foot and confidence. “Every time he’s on the ball, he’s cutting someone up, dribbling past players, finding the right paths, you know, threading the needle sometimes and he scores great goals,” Riverhead central defender and captain Declan Purcell said. “He had a couple from 35 yards this year. He’s just insane. His touch is like silk.”
Arias said: “I actually want to get better every single day. I don’t take any days off.”
That’s something a coach can appreciate. Philcox said that even as a sophomore Arias “takes such a leadership role. And it’s such a luxury to have your best player also be one of the hardest working guys and not a goof-off who’s just resting on his ability and, you know, ‘Let me just show off.’ ”
One day Arias may be playing before much larger crowds in an MLS uniform.
“I would love that,” Philcox said. “I wouldn’t be surprised because of the way that he works with his work ethic like that. That will take you wherever you’re trying to go.”