Republic FC midfielder Rodrigo Lopez was looking forward to Sunday’s friendly against Atlas FC of Mexican Liga MX for weeks, ever since he discovered his old rivals would be making the trip from Guadalajara to the capital.
Lopez has a long history with Atlas FC. As a youngster, he cheered for his hometown team. Most of his family are still fans of Los Zorres (The Foxes), who play in the first division of Mexico’s national soccer league, and Lopez said he had plenty of friends and family in the stands Sunday night as Atlas scored goals in the 80th and 83rd minutes to win 2-1.
“For me, it was special to play against Atlas because as a young boy in Guadalajara, that was the team my father and my uncles loved,” said Lopez, Republic FC’s leading scorer, although he was held out Sunday to save him for Monday’s rescheduled match against USL Pro foe Orange County Blues FC. It’s the second time this season that Republic FC will play back-to-back games. The first set came April 12-13, when Sacramento lost to Orange County 2-1 but beat Los Angeles Galaxy II 3-0.
With three Liga MX teams from Guadalajara, Lopez, 27, was discovered and signed by Chivas Guadalajara, the 11-time first division champion, to its development squad and later played for the top squad for 18 months before signing with Chivas USA of Major League Soccer in 2005.
So to play for the hated rivals of most of his family was a little awkward for Lopez and presented a weird dynamic to Sunday’s contest at Bonney Field in front of an announced sellout crowd of 8,000.
“My family, through social media, has been teasing me for days telling me that they want me to score a goal but make sure Atlas wins,” Lopez said. “To fans of Atlas and a guy who played for Chivas (Guadalajara), this is great.”
Lopez’s uncle, Enrique Lopez, grew up as an Atlas fan, as did Rodrigo’s father, Alvaro. Alvaro and Enrique watched Sunday’s game via webcast from Enrique’s living room. Because of previous commitments, neither was able to come up from Santa Barbara, where the Lopez family settled as immigrants when Rodrigo was a teenager. Enrique had to work, he said, while Alvaro oversaw practice of the high-level amateur team he coaches – San Nicolas of the Santa Barbara Central Coast Soccer League.
“When (Alvaro) and I were young, we would listen to Atlas games on the radio, and when we moved to Guadalajara, we both joined Atlas’s youth soccer program,” Enrique Lopez said. “So when Rodrigo chose to go with Chivas (Guadalajara), we were happy for him. It’s exciting to know that Atlas is making the trip to play in Sacramento. We wish we could be there, but with Roro on the Republic, it’s like we are there. We’ll definitely be watching.”
Enrique Lopez said he’s proud of his nephew and would love for him to get a chance with another MLS team after Rodrigo played for the Portland Timbers in 2009 and 2010.
“Like his father, Rodrigo is a very talented midfielder,” Enrique Lopez said. “When his dad and I were playing, Roro would always follow us to the field. Instead of going to the playground with his friends, he’d be on the sidelines watching us play with a ball at his feet.”
Rodrigo Lopez’s Republic FC teammate Jose “Cristian” Gonzalez was a member of the Atlas FC Youth Academy, widely regarded as one of the best youth development systems in Mexico, before leaving for the United States and playing for the Houston Dynamo Academy. A little-used defender, Gonzalez started for the Republic on Sunday night.
MATCH AT A GLANCE
ATLAS FC 2, REPUBLIC 1
Player of the match: Republic goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek had seven saves, including two from point-blank range a little more than a second apart in the first half, on Sunday night at Bonney Field. Jakubek is the Republic’s backup keeper, but he has played well while Jake Gleeson recovers from a groin injury and a concussion. Gleeson will start tonight against the Orange County Blues FC.
Goal of the match: Republic midfielder Max Alvarez gathered a fine center ball from forward Chad Bartlome in the 40th minute, sprinted past two Atlas FC defenders, juked goalie Miguel Angel Fraga Licona and poked the ball with his right foot to the low left corner of the goal.
Los Zorres Zanies?: The Tower Bridge Battalion, the Republic’s crazy band of ultra-fans, was outnumbered approximately 2-to-1. Los Zorres, the nickname for Atlas FC, had boisterous fans from the Bay Area and Los Angeles sitting in the northeast corner of Bonney Field.
Lineup note: Ten Republic starters rested for tonight’s USL Pro match, coach Preki said.