As a rookie joining an already loaded midfield, Mikey Lopez knows he faces an uphill battle for playing time this season with Sporting Kansas City.
But Sporting are taking a long view with their first-round pick, the 14th selection overall and the only player they took in Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft.
“Him being a Generation adidas guy gives us a chance to work with him without any pressure on him having to perform right away,” manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com by phone from the draft in Indianapolis. “That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to give him every opportunity to participate as much as we can, but it’s the same thing I’ve always said about the guys who are GAs: You get some breathing room, which is great.”
Lopez had been projected by some draft analysts to be a top-five pick, and his new club sees plenty of gritty, box-to-box potential in the former North Carolina star.
“I was blown away that he was still on the board when it came to us,” said Vermes, who rated Lopez among his top five prospects in the weeks leading up to the SuperDraft. “He’s got a lot of qualities like [Sporting midfielder Paulo] Nagamura.”
The 19-year-old Lopez was also happy with his final destination, even with the possibility of a lengthy road to significant minutes.
“They have a great stadium, great fans,” he said in a phone interview on Thursday. “I know I’ll develop as a player and person there. It’s going to be difficult, because they have such a great team, but hopefully I can come in and break in this season and start playing for them.”
The midfielder, who will join Sporting at their training camp in Tucson, Ariz., after time with the US Under-20 national team, said he is especially looking forward to training time alongside another of SKC’s offseason midfield acquisitions.
“I know Benny Feilhaber’s there now,” he said. “I know I can learn from him and he can make me a better soccer player. He can help me on the attacking side of the ball, and that will be really good for me.”
Sporting saw midfielder Roger Espinoza depart for England’s Wigan Athletic after last season, but believe they have filled that vacancy with Feilhaber. Nagamura also saw extensive time last season, and Uri Rosell, Peterson Joseph and Michael Thomas can play either defensive or box-to-box roles.
“You know the players that we have in the middle of the park,” Vermes said. “That’ll be a good environment for the kid to be in, to be around those players. I’m excited about that, and he’ll help us going forward.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.