[THIRTEEN FOR '13] Some soccer hotbeds go unnoticed. They might lack a pro club, a major college program or a big-time youth club. One such area is the Rio Grande Valley area in South Texas. It took a move from Mission, located on the Mexican border across from Reynosa, to Austin, where he attended boarding school, and then to the University of North Carolina for Mikey Lopez achieve national notoriety. Only a sophomore, he is considered the top midfielder in the college ranks and could go as high as the No. 2 pick in the MLS SuperDraft if he signs a Generation adidas contract.
Under new management with little knowledge of the college scene but a stated goal to emphasize its Mexican roots, Chivas USA holds the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft with which many expect it to take Lopez.
The 5-foot-8 midfielder was the ACC Freshman of the Year in 2011 when he helped North Carolina win the NCAA Division I title. He was named a third-team All-American as a sophomore in 2012 for the Tar Heels, who lost to eventual national champion Indiana in the quarterfinals.
Lopez, who is currently with the U.S. under-20 national team in training in Florida, was born in Dallas but moved to Mission when he was 1. In eighth grade, he moved to Austin to enroll in the St. Stephen’s Soccer Academy at St. Stephen's Episcopal School.
He played in Austin for Lonestar Soccer Club and later Classic Elite, a pair of Development Academy clubs, and made his international debut with the under-15 national team in 2008 after trips to Mexico and Costa Rica with ODP teams the year before.
Lopez traveled with the U.S. under-20 national team to Spain for the Marbella Cup, where he started in midfield alongside Luis Gil of Real Salt Lake, Benji Joya of Mexican club Santos and Marc Pelosi of Liverpool's U-21s.
Lopez is one of the players from the Rio Grande Valley who have made it. Martin Ontiveros played on Akron's 2010 national championship team and is now a junior at Furman. Victor Garza, 20, has been on the fringe of the Tigres' first team in Mexico for more than a year.
"The talent here is amazing, we can play anywhere," Lopez told Rio Grande Valley Futbol. "But I think it’s a discipline thing and wanting to be there, determination, all the self-sacrifice. I know there’s a lot of people that want to go there, but they don’t do all the extra work that they need to get there. If everyone would sacrifice a little more or be a lot more determined, they can get anywhere they want."
Lopez says there were other players who were better than him when he was growing up.
"I’m one of those kids that didn’t have the most talent on my team," he said, "but my hard work and determination, and all the sacrifices I’ve made, that’s helped me get to where I am right now. I’m sure a lot of kids here can do it, but they have to start with themselves first, and the parents have to help them also."
THIRTEEN FOR '13:
4. Amando Moreno (New York Red Bulls U-17/18s-signed with New York Red Bulls)
3. Andrew Farrell (Louisville)
2. Ashton Bennett (Coastal Carolina)
1. Wil Trapp (Akron-signed with Columbus Crew)