Before the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday in Indianapolis, Sporting Kansas City largely had written off its chances to land North Carolina midfielder Mikey Lopez.
“Honestly, it was a name we talked about so early on that his name kind of fell off the radar screen, because we thought he’d be taken in the first six or eight picks,” Sporting KC President and CEO Robb Heineman said.
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But when Sporting KC went on the clock with the 14th selection in the first round, manager Peter Vermes was delighted to find Lopez still available and gladly snapped up the 19-year-old Dallas native.
“We consider ourselves very fortunate that he fell that far, because we just never thought it would happen,” Vermes said.
That reality started to sink in — in a very good way — around pick No. 10 when the Seattle Sounders FC traded up six spots to take Indiana’s Eriq Zavaleta.
That left two Generation adidas players on the board, but Vermes was confident Lopez or Virginia Commonwealth forward J.J. Johnson would be there for the taking four picks later.
“When the 10th pick was made, we were like, ‘Man, these two guys might still be here,’” Vermes said. “We were really surprised, but it was good the way it worked out. We were fortunate and a little blown away that it actually happened.”
Notre Dame midfielder Dillon Powers went to Colorado at No. 11, followed by Maryland midfielder John Stertzer to Real Salt Lake.
With the 13th selection, the Houston Dynamo snagged Johnson, leaving Sporting KC with a relatively easy choice — Lopez — with its only pick in the SuperDraft.
“He’s got a big upside, and he’s a player with a lot of quality to play as a defensive midfielder or even as a Paulo Nagamura type, where he can play more of an attacking role but goes box-to-box,” Vermes said.
The two-time reigning Eastern Conference regular-season champions, who lost veteran midfielders Roger Espinoza (transfer to Wigan Athletic) and Julio Cesar (signed with Toronto FC) during the offseason, hope Lopez can help fill some of that void.
For his part, Lopez was equally thrilled to land with Sporting KC.
“Ultimately, I’m with the team I wanted to be with,” Lopez said. “So I’m happy. I knew they had an amazing team and the atmosphere there is amazing also. It’s the way soccer should be, so everything about Sporting Kansas City was attractive to me.”
Lopez scored five goals with five assists in two seasons with the Tar Heels. He’s also seen regular duty with the U.S. men’s soccer youth national teams.
Lopez, though, won’t join Sporting KC right away.
Instead, he’ll head to Mexico, where he’ll join Sporting KC goalkeeper Jon Kempin in training with the U.S. men’s under-20 national team.
“It will be good to see him again,” Lopez said. “We’ve played (together) for a while on other national teams and we’re good friends.”
Much like last season’s first-round pick, forward Dom Dwyer, Lopez signed a Generation adidas contract with MLS. His salary won’t count against Sporting KC’s salary cap for as many as three seasons.
“It’s huge, especially when you look at our current roster and the way we have to manage it over the next couple years,” Vermes said. “Having a guy like him that’s going to develop over time without hitting our books is huge. It’s a double whammy for us.”