INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — The No. 3 Kansas City Comets advanced to the MASL Playoffs semifinals against the No. 2 Florida Tropics by defeating the No. 6 Dallas Sidekicks in a mini-game after splitting the home-away series 1-1.
But perhaps the most memorable moment from the contest came in Game 2, when Lucas Sousa kicked the ball off the wall and found a trailing Eduardo Monreal Freyre, who finished in spectacular fashion.
Also known as Benji Price, or simply Benji, he executed a flying-rabona-style finish that found the back of the net and gave the Comets a 2-1 lead in the first half.
“In that moment, I didn’t even think. I just reacted. My first idea was to shoot with my right because the goalie was coming back to cover his near post, but then it just happened and it worked,” Benji said.
The goal made the SportsCenter Top 10 list and went viral on social media.
“My teammates and I went to dinner after the win and someone had messaged us that the goal was on ESPN. We didn’t believe them. We were like, ‘No way!'” Benji said. “The restaurant happened to have ESPN on the TV and they started with the Top 10 countdown. We started joking about it like, ‘Could you imagine? No way, right?'”
Yes way. The spectacular goal was No. 5 on the top 10 list.
“They started pulling out their cameras just in case, but were mostly kidding around filming me and the TV not really thinking it would show up,” Benji said. “When it did, I got goosebumps! To be on TV on such a well-known channel moments after it happened, it’s like I’m actually living my dreams.”
The nickname “Benji Price” comes from his favorite show as a kid, Captain Tsubasa (Super Campeones in Spanish). He and his friends would pretend to be their favorite characters from the soccer-themed anime and Benji Price (Genzo Wakabayashi in the English version) was Japan’s number-one goalkeeper, the same position Monreal grew up playing.
The name stuck, but playing as a goalkeeper didn’t.
Growing up in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, Benji would drive his high school coaches crazy trying to emulate legendary Mexico men’s national team goalkeeper Jorge Campos, who would famously dribble the ball out of his box like a field player in extravagant fashion.
They asked him if he wanted to change positions and be a field player, but admits it was a difficult transition.
“I was very bad with my feet. I was, how we say [in Mexico], a table and a trunk,” Benji said as he laughed. “I started playing center back and any ball that came my way I would just kick away as hard as I could.”
Benji continued practicing around his neighborhood with friends and family to improve his skills. His brother started showing him videos of Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldinho, who is regarded the most gifted dribbler of the ball of all time.
“I learned a lot of ‘fancy’ moves and I loved practicing them,” Benji said.
The upgrade in his skill moves translated to the field. After high school and a brief stint with a third-division Liga Premier de Mexico club, Benji transitioned to indoor soccer and joined Chihuahua Savage, which at the time was playing in the second division of the Major Arena Soccer League (M2).
Soon after, he made the move to the United States joining the Wichita Wings in M2 before the 2021 season.
“No one knew Spanish and I didn’t know English. For me, it was a complicated goal. I couldn’t understand my own teammates. But if you never try, you never know what can happen,” Benji said. “Personally, I don’t like living with the thought of, ‘What would have happened if I would have tried?'”
That same way of thinking led him to enjoy a breakout season with the Wings, leading the Wings in goals with 16 and assists with 8 (24 points). With the help from a connection with Comets in Wichita, Benji was headed to Kansas City ahead of the 2021-22 season and has impressed in the midfield showing flashes of his talent and, of course, goal-scoring ability.
Despite his overnight viral rise in the soccer-sphere, Benji said the most important celebration came after the team advanced to the next round.
“After the game and meeting with fans and taking pictures with them is the greatest satisfaction as a player, and in the locker room, you have no idea. Everyone throwing water and throwing their shirts. We were frustrated when we lost Game 2, so it was a release after we knew we were going to the semifinal,” Benji said. “We made a big mess in the locker room so I want to apologize to the cleaning crew, but that celebration was inevitable.”
The Kansas City Comets will host Game 1 against the Tropics on Saturday, April 16 at 6 p.m. Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday, April 25 in Lakeland, Florida.