I met Sal Reyes when I was 12 or 13, and he became instantly the best soccer player I knew. My first glimpse of him was at tryouts for a Salem-area U-15 select team. He was doing rainbows one after another at a full run. I remember thinking that if the rest of the squad were this good, I didn’t have a chance. Of rainbows I could do exactly one in a row, most of the time, and only if the ball were stationary. I was a bit young to be on the team—Sal and most of the other players were a couple years older than me—and seeing that level of touch and skill was instantly intimidating: I needed to get a whole lot better.

Happily for me and my peace of mind, Sal was the star of that team. Nobody had his talent. His English was iffy, but who cared? On the field, he was tricky, shifty, smart, and darn near unstoppable. I remember in one game watching him dribble virtually the entire opposing team, walk the ball into the goal, and get called for being offsides—which incensed us to no end, since how can you be offside when the ball is on your feet the whole time? To this day, I have no idea how he dribbled like he did. He was a wonderful soccer inspiration for me during my teenage years.

I played with him intermittently after high school. We took an indoor team down to a tournament in Eugene, and he was as amazing as ever. Played with him for a few seasons of outdoor Over-30 soccer until the cancer left him too weak to play. I remember in particular his last outing at Bush Park, where a group of us Salem Kickers gather regularly to scrimmage. He was so grateful and so delighted to be out there playing, and he was, of course, as dangerous as ever with the ball.

As recently as March, he had emailed with high hopes of joining us in this coming outdoor season. Obviously, it was not to be. Tomorrow, as the saying goes, is promised to no one. But 44 seems too young an age to die. I am thankful that the length of his illness gave him time for goodbyes and that I had the opportunity to express directly my admiration for him, both via email and in person at his 25th anniversary celebration in January. I know he was at peace, because he said so and because that is what the tone of life reflected. He had come to terms with his own mortality, even if perhaps I’ve not, and to the end of my acquaintance with him, he exuded a classiness and a style that leaves me hoping, once again, that I can someday emulate him.