"Oh my God, my goal is on TV!"
While Eduardo "Benji" Monreal was enjoying a celebratory postgame dinner with his Kansas City Comets teammates at a local restaurant on Tuesday night, ESPN's SportsCenter's top 10 plays of the day were highlighted on a nearby TV.
The countdown began with No. 10. Then went to nine and so on.
Some of Monreal's teammates told him his spectacular and marvelous goal against the Dallas Sidekicks would be among the top plays.
"I don't believe that," he said. "Nah, it’s not going to happen."
And there it was.
"This is the Arena Soccer League," an ESPN announcer said. "You make the top play, and we will find you."
While in mid-air Monreal connected for an unbelievable score against the Dallas Sidekicks in the Ron Newman Cup quarterfinals of the Major Arena Soccer League playoffs. He crossed his right leg behind his left leg to fake out the goalkeeper to drill the ball into the net.
"That was fantastic," the announcer said.
Suddenly, the 5-9, 150-lb. forward was the center of attention again, not in an arena, but in a restaurant, of all places.
"I was shaking. I was nervous," he said. "It was like, oh my God, my goal is on TV!
"I scored the goal like one hour before. I never figured, never thinking someday the TV would show my goal."
His Comets teammates reminded the other diners who scored that stupendous goal.
"My teammates said, 'Do you know who was that guy? It's him! It's him!' " Monreal said. "And everyone is looking at me like, 'No, that's not you.' "
Words will not do justice to what the 26-year-old Monreal accomplished, but we'll do our best.
It was the second game of the quarterfinal series at Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence, Mo. The Comets were tied with the Sidekicks at 9:59 of the second period.
Monreal started a counterattack by sending the ball into the right corner to Lucas Sousa. The ball bounced off the boards to Sousa, who slammed it off the wall on the right side of the net.
The bouncing ball found Monreal, who then crossed his right leg behind his left in an attempt to fool the goalkeeper.
He achieved it - spectacularly.
Keeper Juan Gamboa dove to the right while the ball hit the back of the net on the left side.
"He did it! Maybe the goal of the year! You've got to be kidding me!" exclaimed Comets play-by-play announcer Nick Vasos. "This kid Benji is something special!"
For the uninitiated, what Monreal scored is called a rabona goal, in which the kicking leg is crossed behind the back of the standing leg.
When done correctly, it is perfection.
"I didn't have a lot of time," Benji said. "I was just thinking to try to score with my right foot. But he keeper is coming out. So, I needed to drive to score in a different way. I tried a fake. I tried and it was a goal."
Monreal admitted he was just as astonished as everyone else.
"I was thinking like, 'I really did that goal?' " he said. "I was looking at the fans, at my teammates and they're looking at me like I mean, wow! I saw their faces. I was watching the replay and I was like, 'Did I really score like that?' "
That goal lifted the Comets into a 2-1 lead, but that was short lived. Dallas rallied for a 7-5 victory in the second game of the series - Kansas City won the first encounter in Dallas, 7-3 - forcing a 15-minute Extra Time match that the Comets prevailed, 3-1. Monreal, who was named the second star of the earlier contest, did not figure in the scoring of that decisive game.
"Before the game, we had confidence in ourselves," he said. "We had a good game in Dallas."
Monreal, a Ciudad Juarez, Mexico native, said that he had practice that manuever during training and not all of his teammates' reviews were positive.
"They say, hey don't do that, try to score a normal goal," he said, adding that he was inspired by the likes of Ronaldinho, [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Leo] Messi.
Not surprisingly, Monreal received plenty of texts and emails from friends and family from his native Mexico.
He dedicated that goal to his parents.
"They can't come to watch the games in the USA, because they didn't have papers. So, they only can watch my games online," he said.
"They gave me an opportunity to play. They spend their time on my games. So that's why I love to play because my family and friends and my support me a lot."
Usually when Monreal scores a goal, he has a shirt under his team jersey with the names of his parents. On Tuesday, he said that he forgot to take that shirt to the game.
A couple of days after the goal, Monreal was trying to catch up with several media interview requests.
"It was so crazy," he said.
Before talking to this writer, Monreal admitted he had just watched his goal again.
But he realized there was little time to bask in the past. The Comets will face the Florida Tropics in the semifinals, hosting the first game tonight at 7 ET. Florida will welcome Kansas City for Game No. 2 in Lakeland, Fla. on Saturday, April 23 at 6 p.m. ET.
The teams did not meet during the regular season, but Monreal knew the Comets will have to play very well to overcome the Eastern Division champions, who finished with the second-best record (18-3-2) The Comets (13-9-1) won the Central Division.
"It will be a hard game because Florida is playing really good," he said. "They had good players. I think they're Brazilian. I'm not sure. But I mean like it will be a good game for both teams. We are ready for the semifinals."
Monreal's journey to KC did not happen overnight.
He started with the third division Soles di Ciudad Juarez in the city of his birth. He found his way to the United States and competed with four M2 teams - Colorado Inferno, Cuervos Ciudad Juárez, Savage Chihuahua and Wichita Wings.
During the 2021 M2 campaign, Monreal enjoyed a breakout season in which he led Wichita in goals (16), assists (8) and points (24). He finished fifth in scoring, fourth in assists and tied for first in game-winning goals (2) while the Wings lost to the Cleveland Crunch in the MASL2 championship series. He also a finalist for MVP honors and was named to a first-team all-star.
While he enjoyed much success in the arena, it was more challenging off of it.
"I didn’t know anything in English," he said. "It was so hard for me, because I don't have any way to communicate with my teammates."
Since then, Monreal has learned more than enough to conduct interviews in English.
The Comets noticed and signed him for this season. Visa issues, however, limited Monreal to one game and one goal in the regular season - in an 8-6 victory over the Milwaukee Wave on March 11. He has two goals in three playoff games.
Needless to say, it was difficult not playing.
"You only go to the practice or you're training," Monreal said, "but you can always support your teammates on the bench. So, it's frustrating. That's a difficult part. you have to be ready any time because you never know when it will be your opportunity to play."
When Eduardo "Benji" Monreal got that opportunity on Tuesday night, he made the most of it with a goal of a lifetime.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. He can be reached via email at Michael@FrontRowSoccer.com. His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, recently was published. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.