By Charles Boehm
Like his female counterpart Midge Purce, Roque Lopez has earned this month’s Korrio Player to Watch award by virtue of steady improvement and success at increasingly challenging levels of play, having risen from FC Frederick’s Under-17 Premier side to Real Maryland’s Super Y-League U-16 squad and most recently, the Puerto Rico U-20 National Team.
An attacking playmaker for his FC Frederick team, Lopez was asked to play center back in his Super Y team’s 4-4-2 formation by Real Maryland coach David Edlow, and the Puerto Rican-born youth adapted to the new role seamlessly, defending well, reading the game intelligently and starting attacks with precise passing out of the back.
“Roque is a fantastic player. He’s versatile, he can play anywhere you need on the field,” Edlow told The Soccer Wire. “We just liked his natural instincts to read the game. He’s calm on the ball, always keeps possession – you rarely ever see him lose the ball or turn it over. He’s that smart, intelligent player.
“We had a lot of offensive and midfield players, so he really stepped up and filled in at the back, and was a leader for us back there, was one of our captains…We’re looking for defenders who can keep possession and get the ball back up to our midfielders rather than the big backs you sometimes see at the club level who just bang the ball 60 yards once they get it.”
Lopez’s value was further underlined when he injured his ankle in action for his Urbana High School team last fall and could not anchor Real’s squad at the Super Y League National Finals in Tampa, Fla. last December.
“We went down to the Super Y nationals and unfortunately, we didn’t do as well as we would’ve liked,” explained Edlow. “Roque and our other starting center back broke their ankles, so it took a toll on us.”
Nonetheless, his displays caught the attention of Puerto Rico’s coaching staff and he was invited to take part in tryouts, where he did well enough to be included in the U-19 squad which represented the U.S. territory at the prestigious Dallas Cup tournament last month.
The Caribbean islanders ran up a 3-0 record in a difficult group and reached the quarterfinals, where they fell 3-1 to California powerhouse and eventual finalists Arsenal FC U.S. Soccer Development Academy U-17/18s.
For Lopez, it was another growth experience, one he quickly brought back to club play.
“You can see that he’s really learned a lot and stepped his game up even more,” said Edlow. “You can’t simulate international level.”
Lopez has not yet made a college choice, but his coach has no doubts that he will someday prosper at a top NCAA program, probably in a midfield role. And with his 3.5 grade-point average, strong SAT scores, International Baccalaureate classes and National Honor Society membership, he’ll likely have plenty of opportunities on the academic side as well.
“Oh yeah, he can definitely play at the Division I level,” said Edlow.