While Mikey Lopez was seeing his 2013 MLS SuperDraft classmates get significant playing time – even regular starting spots – the young midfielder was seeing more minutes for his country's youth system than for his club.
He's ready for that to change as he heads into his sophomore season with Sporting Kansas City.
“It's always tough,” Lopez told MLSsoccer.com after a recent training session in Kansas City, before the club headed to Orlando, Fla., for the second leg of their preseason. “You always want to be able to play, but what they're doing at Sporting is, they're trying to help me grow with the team and learn the system so I can be better prepared when it's my turn.”
Manager and technical director Peter Vermes, who took Lopez with the 14th overall pick last year, kept him in Kansas City rather than loan him to USL PRO affiliate Orlando City. Lopez, part of the United States U-20 World Cup team in 2013, made only one appearance for Sporting – a start in their first U.S. Open Cup match against the PDL's Des Moines Menace.
“I wanted some loan time to go play, but I also wanted time here,” Lopez said. “I learned a lot from the players and the coaching staff. So even though playing would have done me good, I think staying here and learning the system was also a benefit to me.”
Lopez has done a good job of learning that system, Vermes said, and should contend for league minutes this year despite a preseason toe injury that has set his preparation back about a week.
“I thought the last third of last year he was actually – he made a lot of progress,” Vermes told reporters. “I think he's starting to understand more and more what the role is in the position that he would play, and he's got two positions that he can play: the holding midfielder and one of the attacking midfielders that goes box-to-box. So he's got a good idea, and that's the biggest thing.”
And while Vermes understands Lopez's desire to make Sporting's matchday rosters, he also said each player is on a different readiness schedule.
“It's never easy for them, because they want to play right now,” he said. “And I'd never hold a player back because I've got somebody else. It's really trying to bring them on at the right time. There's no doubt in my mind that he has made a lot of progress from just a year ago.”