Mikey Lopez is the only Tar Heel bound for the MLS who isn’t a senior, and in the soccer world the fact that he’s a mere sophomore speaks volumes. Most players wait at least until their junior year to depart for the league, and a great many stay in school until they graduate. Lopez’s age will not only impress, but it makes him a valuable recruit financially. He has penned a Generation Adidas contract, an attractive prospect for any MLS club for its low effect on the wage bill. Doubtless he’ll go in the first round of the MLS draft, but it looks like the combination of impressive youth and contractual sweeteners could help him go as high as the second pick.
Lopez has served the Carolina soccer program well for two years, and while his goal production has been lower this year than his freshman season, he proved his greatest worth on the back foot. His hard running hounding play in the midfield gave the Tar Heels a stable base to build their attack upon. Despite his critical importance as a holding midfielder, there were critical appeals all season to give him a more attacking role, and for good reason. He has the ability to break a defense and be a dynamic force behind the forwards whilst keeping order in the back. He’s expected to be a top rookie, though his upside will be his biggest selling point.
Almost any player with the opportunity to snag a GA contract (that’s Generation Adidas, not Georgia) is expected to be a top pick, but Lopez looks to be the beneficiary of an MLS draft order with at least 3 teams in the top 12 ready to take him. Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids, and Chivas USA are all expected to have him as a priority, and while each club will have multiple targets, it’s hard to see all three clubs missing out on him.
And Mikey has employed a little bit of his own draft savvy to try and secure the second pick. After an extremely strong showing at the MLS Combine, he publicly came out as wanting to play for the second pick holders Chivas USA. Chivas were planning to invest their pick in a Mexican- American, and they not only have an immediate use for a blue chip midfielder but could also offer him the type of role he prefers. Chivas haven’t been the merriest club of late, and they’ll be likely to snag any player in the draft to show them some enthusiasm. Their only other major target is Carlos Alvarez, a gifted playmaker but a player without Lopez’s high ceiling.
I fully expect Chivas to make a play for Lopez. His enthusiasm and star power potential could make him a star and a fan favorite for years to come, the type of young investment to build around, and Chivas need to build. Even if they make Alvarez their second pick, they’re likely to try and trade for another high pick so as to ensure snagging both young players.
If Chivas defy expectations and leave Lopez be, Colorado could easily take him. It’s believed that the tutelage of Oscar Pareja in Colorado could be the force to make Lopez a star, and Colorado would be wise to invest in a young player whom they know they have the ability to turn into a star. It was for this reason that before the combine and Lopez’s comments Colorado were the main candidates to sign Lopez. If not Colorado, RSL are the other big candidate to nab Lopez. His contract will help them to amend their wage bill, and he’s perceived to be a good fit for the team.
Chivas are second pick, Colorado sixth, and RSL twelfth. If by some miracle Lopez isn’t taken by any of these three, anyone after them will likely want him, but I project he’ll be taken by Chivas. Either as second pick or as a high first round pick from a trade. If not, Colorado will be keen to invest in him, and RSL knows him to be a smart pick.