Rodrigo Lopez has had a number of defining moments as Republic FC’s leader and star player. But his reputation for high-profile exploits rose even higher Wednesday night with his towering, second-half goal from midfield in a 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 at Bonney Field.
The 60-yard goal, which came in the 71st minute and caught Whitecaps goalkeeper Spencer Richey off his line, has become a social media hit.
ESPN FC, Fox Soccer Blog and Soccer_euro (an Instagram account with nearly a million followers) are among the media websites that have posted the video. Major League Soccer and the USL have linked to the video. By Thursday at 6 p.m., Republic FC had more than 20,000 views on its Facebook page.
Lopez said the shot, which he called “one of the best goals I’ve scored, for sure,” wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, especially with the windy conditions. He said he talked about going for a long-distance shot with forward Justin Braun during halftime.
“I told Justin, ‘I’m going to see if the goalie is cheating, if I can catch him off his line,’” Lopez said. “He was off a little bit, but he wasn’t even cheating that much. But the wind helped it out a lot as well.”
Lopez struck the ball with his right foot just in front of the midfield stripe. Richey backpedaled, but the soaring ball dropped behind him into the empty net setting off a celebration among the players and the sellout crowd of 10,906.
Lopez received a standing ovation when he was subbed out for Gabe Gonzalez three minutes later.
Even slow-to-praise Republic FC coach Preki, one of the most prolific goal scorers in his indoor and outdoor playing days, was impressed.
“A great goal,” Preki said. “A great awareness of what’s going on on the field. (It took) lots of quality to deliver that. It’s not just shooting it. You’ve got to hit the target from that distance. Give him the credit. He’s made plays for us.”
Lopez had staked Republic FC to a 1-0 lead in the 32nd minute on a goal from a give and go with David Estrada.
The 11-year pro and Republic FC’s first player signing was one of the USL MVP finalists and an All-USL first team selection last season, when he helped Republic FC to the USL title in its inaugural season.
He’s continued on a roll this season. He had the winning stoppage-time goal in a 3-2 win over the LA Galaxy II on March 28 in Carson, then had a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win over Los Angeles in the USL home opener Saturday.
But Major League Soccer teams haven’t swarmed to the heady midfielder’s door, even in a league that has been criticized this season for poor midfield play.
Preki said the 5-foot-7 Lopez is an MLS-level player, though he’s glad he’s playing for Republic FC.
“He should (be) somewhere else,” Preki said.
Lopez played for Preki with Chivas USA in MLS when Lopez was an undisciplined teenager who took things for granted. He bounced around with a half dozen teams, including the Portland Timbers from 2009 to 2011, before signing with Republic FC.
“Hopefully a chance comes,” Lopez said. “I think I am getting in the age where I’m hitting my prime. I feel really good, my body feels good. I do want another shot in MLS.”
He said he had an offer from an MLS team last season but decided to remain in Sacramento.
“I was so close to going,” said Lopez, who turns 28 on May 10. “But we had something good going on here in Sacramento. Once you have your family, it changes everything. I’ve been taken care of well here. It wasn’t time to go.”
Preki isn’t about to push Lopez out the door, but if the player gets the chance to play at the next level, the coach won’t stand in his way, either.
“I don’t think that would be fair,” Preki said. “When I was a player, I always wanted to play (at) the highest level possible.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.