Missing training camp isn’t ideal for any rookie, but Sporting Kansas City is willing to make an exception for Mikey Lopez.
Lopez, a talented Generation adidas midfielder who played two seasons at North Carolina, fell into Sporting KC’s lap last month at the 2013 MLS SuperDraft.
He got his feet wet during the club’s two-week training stint in Tucson, Ariz., but Lopez didn’t head to Orlando, Fla., for the second leg of preseason with Sporting KC.
Instead, Lopez, 19, is training with the U.S. under-20 men’s national team in Puebla, Mexico, where qualifying for the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup begins Monday.
“Representing your country is a major thing,” Lopez said. “Hopefully, we will do well and I can make Sporting Kansas City fans proud of what we’re doing here.”
Lopez and the U.S. kick off the CONCACAF Under-20 championships Monday against Haiti. Group A play wraps up Feb. 22 against Costa Rica with two of the three teams advancing to the quarterfinals in the knockout round, which begins Feb. 26.
Each of the four quarterfinals winners will earn a berth to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, which begins June 21 in Turkey.
While Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes would love to have his top draft choice around, the experience Lopez will gain probably has more value to his development as a player.
“The value is great not only for the players but for our national team program to be able to have these players in must-win situations, playing in Mexico in that environment,” U.S. under-20 coach Tab Ramos said. “It will only help them grow as players for what we need them for in the future.”
To hear Ramos tell it, Lopez will be an indispensable player, too.
“He’s one of those guys who can play any position in the midfield and works extremely hard every day and works hard in the games,” Ramos said. “Anywhere you can throw him in, you’re making your team a little bit better.
“He brings that intensity that’s contagious to the other guys. I think Mikey is certainly one of those guys that, when we put the final 20 players together, you put toward the top of your list because of his work ethic.”
There will be plenty of time after he returns to get further acclimated to the professional game.
“I’m still trying to play a little catch-up, but for the most part I feel comfortable with the team and the system of how Peter wants us to play,” Lopez said. “From that standpoint, I feel good.”
Of course, he’ll feel even better if his play helps the U.S. navigate through qualifying.
“I definitely think we’re going to qualify and do well in the World Cup this summer,” Lopez said. “I have a lot of faith in this team and we’re definitely good enough to qualify and make a long run. Playing in any World Cup would be an amazing experience and kind of a dream come true.”