All Images: Jesus Miguel Garcia, Two Ten Soccer
Two and a half months, 257 minutes…however you measure it, the current chapter of midfielder Mikey Lopez’s professional career with San Antonio FC is still young.
With the club retaining 16 players (plus two who had previously just practiced with the squad), it wouldn’t be a surprise if Lopez had to wait his turn to get in the lineup. However, he has slotted right in and is already having quite an eventful time at SAFC, both on and off the field.
Friends Old and New
After playing professionally in Kansas City, Orlando, Oklahoma City and New York City, Lopez’s move to SAFC brought him as close to home as he’s been in years. Lopez grew up in Mission, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley and later spent time in central Texas when attending the Lonestar SC and later Classics Elite academies.
A fellow midfielder, Kris Tyrpak actually played with Lopez at Lonestar in their youth, and their chemistry was on full display March 24. That night, the two assisted each other as SAFC negated an early Saint Louis FC goal to win 2-1 in their 2018 home opener.
“It’s like we’re teenagers again…playing together feels really cool,” Lopez said after the match. “You saw the two goals today – him to me and then me to him – so it’s a good connection to have.”
Lopez has met other SAFC teammates before, including Matt Cardone, Maxi Rodriguez and Cyprian Hedrick, but he’s also open to new connections at SAFC. He singled out Sonny Guadarrama as a guy he’s enjoyed getting to know better.
“I’ve been talking to him more and we’ve been building a better relationship each and every day,” Lopez said. “He’s one of the players I look up to for advice because Sonny’s done a lot in this game.”
Guadarrama is an ideal mentor for Lopez as the two are playing similar positions for SAFC and Guadarrama has extensive experience, particularly in the Mexican professional leagues. Off the field, it can’t hurt to have a new friend/”brother” as well – Lopez enjoys family of all kinds.
Inspiring the Next Generation
Lopez hasn’t just played soccer in his first few months at SAFC, he’s also been a spectator to a high school playoff game after a little social media challenge from Alejandro Guzman, a senior forward and captain for Terry High School’s boys varsity soccer team, based in Rosenberg, Texas.
Lopez said he was surprised to see the request arrive in his inbox, and he didn’t actually expect Guzman to get the 250 retweets – but he was a man of his word and followed through on the promise on March 29.
“It’s really cool that someone like him looks up to me and would want me to be at his high school game,” Lopez said of attending the match. “It was really fun meeting him and really fun watching him play that game.”
Lopez may even have been somewhat of a good luck charm that night as Terry won 3-0 over Jefferson High School at San Antonio ISD Sports Complex. Guzman himself scored one goal and assisted another – just as Lopez had done five days earlier.
If Lopez brought the good vibes on March 29 though, perhaps he forgot to pack them in his suitcase for SAFC’s match at Los Angeles Galaxy II two days later, a match in which he was sent off after 77 minutes for a second yellow card. Lopez’s total on the year came to four and he was suspended for SAFC’s April 7 match when they hosted Swope Park Rangers.
Following the March 24 match against Saint Louis, after which SAFC had the most yellow cards in the USL, Head Coach Darren Powell had mixed feelings about whether the cards his team was getting were deserved. In his own specific case, Lopez also balances questionable calls by referees with questionable decisions on his own part, and that seems an accurate assessment.
For example, his caution against Saint Louis came after an opponent’s momentum simply took him into Lopez when chasing a heavy touch, and the Saint Louis player was upended in dramatic fashion. Lopez’s first booking in LA, on the other hand, came for blocking an attempt to take a quick free kick. Besides that instance though, Lopez’s cautions check out in the eyes of Powell, who is okay with yellow cards earned in the name of getting the ball.
“We want to make sure that when we have to go for the ball, we go with intent to win (it),” Powell said after the match against Saint Louis.
Lopez also has a positive outlook despite the card trouble. He’s not going to let the potential of a suspension for a fifth yellow card affect his willingness to go for the ball, and he is already aware of and targeting five matches without a booking in order to have one erased.
Given his high level of involvement early in the season, it may be difficult for Lopez to avoid a fifth booking, even if he just ends up being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he’ll do his best.
Home is Where the Heart Is
Besides reuniting with teammates from his youth like Tyrpak and Cardone, Lopez’s return to Texas also means being close to his actual family, located throughout the state but coming together to watch him play.
“Being close to family is really big for me because I’m a big family person, and it did play a big part in making my decision (to join SAFC) because I knew that I’d be close to my family and be back in my home state, the great state of Texas,” Lopez said.
His move to SAFC is as much about family being closer to him as it is him being closer to family. According to Lopez’s father, Miguel, roughly 150 family and close friends showed up to tailgate before SAFC’s home opener on March 24, and their presence was noticeable and memorable.
Lopez said the only other time in his professional career he can recall having that fervent support from those closest to him was on Sept. 30, 2016, when New York City FC visited the Houston Dynamo – a match Lopez unfortunately spent on the bench.
They showed up in numbers again on March 24, and Lopez had little trouble putting on a show for them that night, even being named SAFC Man of the Match.
“It’s been a long, long time since I’ve played in front of that many people in my family,” Lopez said.
Again, Lopez hasn’t been with SAFC that long yet, but he’s hit the ground running. What happens next is anybody’s guess, but if these first few months are any indication, he and the entire SAFC community have an eventful 2018 season just getting started.