Republic FC director of football Graham Smith said everything possible was done to try to persuade star midfielder Rodrigo Lopez to return to the team.
Lopez, the 2-year-old franchise’s first signing and one of the best players in the USL, announced on social media Thursday that he has decided to move on after his contract expired at the end of the season.
Smith said he and President Warren Smith had tried for nearly a year to sign the 28-year-old Lopez to a deal “that would have taken him with us into Major League Soccer.”
“I think we made him a very favorable offer that would have made him the highest-paid player in the USL,” Smith said, though he wouldn’t reveal dollar figures. “We bent over backwards to try to keep RoRo. But he kept saying, ‘I want to keep my options open. I need to play at a higher level.’ ”
Lopez was courted by the San Jose Earthquakes during Republic FC’s run to the 2014 USL championship and, though he turned them down, there has been speculation of interest by some higher-level teams. Lopez started his career as a teenager in MLS with Chivas USA before being released by Preki.
One reason Lopez said he signed with Republic FC was to prove to Preki that he was a better, more mature player, who had the ability and savvy to play at the highest levels.
Smith said he has no idea what clubs might have an interest in Lopez. He said a lower-level Mexican team made overtures to Lopez this season but Lopez turned them down.
Lopez did not return calls by The Bee seeking comment.
Republic FC coach Paul Buckle, who replaced Preki in July, supported the club’s bid to try to re-sign Lopez. He said he visited Lopez in Santa Barbara during a break in the season to let him know how much he wanted him back.
“We exhausted every avenue with RoRo,” Buckle said. “But it’s important now that we move on. RoRo has made his decision. I’m just proud of the effort the club put in to try and keep him.”
Lopez left a heartfelt message on his Facebook page thanking fans, players and staff at Republic FC for their support during his memorable two seasons with the team that included being a USL first-team selection in 2014. The 2015 team has yet to be named.
“I hope to make myself, my family and you guys proud,” he wrote. “I will give it my all. I might not be wearing a Sacramento Republic jersey anymore but indomitable I stand.”
There were more than 100 responses on his Facebook page and dozens more on his Twitter account.
“Thank you for all you’ve done for the club, this city and for inspiring our daughter to be the best she can be,” Mike Honsal wrote. “The training you’ve done with her has inspired her to be a better player and a leader in her team with not only her play but also her attitude. Thank you!”
Added Kyle Trill: “Saw it coming. Very great player and deserves to play at a higher level. The team will not be the same.”
But even with the loss of two of the franchise’s icons in Preki and Lopez, Graham Smith thinks Republic FC will remain a formidable player in USL as it continues to push toward MLS.
“We want all our players with ambitions to go higher to be able to achieve their dreams,” Smith said. “But the football club is bigger than any one person. Our goal is to have 11 stars on the field.”