Sporting Kansas City committed to bringing Mikey Lopez along slowly after US U-20 run

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Mikey Lopez is back with Sporting Kansas City, after missing much of the preseason and the regular-season opener on youth international duty. Sporting's first-round MLS SuperDraft pick will have some catching up to do, but he's not under any pressure to do it all at once.

“We're going to give him a little break at the moment,” manager Peter Vermes said during Tuesday's weekly news conference. “We have a scrimmage game tomorrow. He's not going to play a lot of minutes. I'll wait to see how he feels tomorrow morning. I want to make sure that he's brought along the right way from a physical perspective.”

Lopez is also looking forward to seeing just where he stands.

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“We'll see how it goes in the first couple of training sessions, see whether I'm behind them or how fast I can catch up to them,” he told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday's training session. “It's not necessarily good to miss such a big part of preseason with the team, especially with me being a rookie, but hopefully I'll be able to catch up quickly and start making the roster.”

The young midfielder helped the United States qualify for the Under-20 World Cup with a second-place finish in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, appearing in all four matches in Puebla, Mexico.

“Any time you get a chance to represent your national team, that is a huge opportunity for you just because it gives you international play,” Vermes said. “So that experience is going to be good for him, and the fact that they qualified is great for the US and for him having been through that process. And that experience will bode well, especially when we play in things like Champions League, because he knows what it's like to qualify against teams from CONCACAF.”

Playing alongside professionals from overseas leagues also helped his development while he was away, Lopez said.

“Some of those guys have been pros for a couple of years,” he said. “It was a good transition from college to here.”

Given Lopez's training and match schedule during his absence, Vermes isn't too worried about Lopez's fitness – or his soccer smarts.

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“The kid has leather lungs,” he said. “He can run all day. Defensively, he's very good. He moves the ball. He's got a good feel for the position. He's a good connector in the middle.”

Still, don't expect to see Lopez featuring right away.

“He's got a lot to learn still, about the way we play,” Vermes said. “But he's a good kid, and I think he'll pick it up pretty quickly.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.