For those that have visited a foreign country where the native language is not your own, you’d know just how difficult communication can be. Now imagine moving to that foreign country without knowing anyone and becoming teammates with strangers for the next four months whom you can barely communicate with. That was the situation for the Cuban native, Hector Morales in the spring of 2016.
Although Hector had former teammate and dear friend Dario Suarez arrive with him in Ann Arbor last summer, Morales made it a point to step outside his comfort zone to maximize his experience. Hindered at times only by his limited English when he first arrived, Morales began by enrolling in English classes at Washtenaw Community College and in no time he was able to find work coaching youth soccer.
Morales came to Ann Arbor with a dedicated mindset to train hard, stay focused and to seize the opportunity that presented itself and that’s exactly what he did. When he wasn’t training with the team or running in the arb on his own, he could be found coaching, working at Ann Arbor Summer Festival or exploring the city he fell in love with so quick.
From the outside looking in, you saw a young man who had recently moved to the US from Cuba, came to Ann Arbor to play semi-pro soccer and didn’t hold anything back. Hector showed no fear at anytime during his journey with AFC Ann Arbor and really set the bar high for other international players that joined the team last year.
Morales was always driven to perform at a high level on the pitch but also brought an element of leadership, language barrier or not. It became apparent how fearless he truly was the night Ann Arbor hosted Lansing United. In minute 79, Morales found teammate Willie Bayemi to spark what would eventually be known as ‘The Comeback.’ Following his assist on The Mighty Oak’s first goal of the match, he continued to push himself and his teammates to a higher level of play. In the 86th and 89th minute he found the back of the net helping AFC Ann Arbor complete the improbably comeback and reenergizing the team at time when it was most needed.
When the club’s season eventually ended in late July in a heartbreaking playoff loss, this meant it was time for most players to return home or pursue other opportunities. Morales however, saw a chance to extend his stay, and enrolled at Schoolcraft College, making SE Michigan his new home.
After one year at Schoolcraft, Morales has not only improved his English but become one of the local/international players that is very well known in the area. He spends a lot of his free time coaching youth soccer.
Now, returning for his second season with The Mighty Oak, Morales will look to make an even bigger impact this summer as he’s improved his communication, worked hard on his game in the offseason and is hungry to push himself forward on this magical journey.