Lopez learning professionalism, finding a place in NYCFC

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

Mikey Lopez got out of Patrick Vieira’s doghouse and into his team sheet.

Lopez, along with Khiry Shelton, were benched by Vieira for comments made in a Pro Cast video for Fox Sports ahead of New York City FC’s match against the Chicago Fire April 10. Lopez admits that video was a mistake on his part, but also a learning opportunity.

“[The video] was a mistake on my part.” Lopez said, “It was something that not only the club brought to my attention but my family too.

“All that helped me grow as a player. I’ve been more calm, reserved on the social media end. It’s something that builds my professionalism and something that’s helped me become more of a professional.”

Lopez thanked the coaching staff for having confidence in him to look past his social media snafu. He’s started the last three games for City alongside Andrea Pirlo, with Federico Bravo sitting underneath.

“My role is similar to Fede’s,” Lopez said. “We’re both fighters and we’ll win the ball and distribute. I feel like I found my way on the team and our partnership and companionship between us three is growing each day in practice and each game. Since the Philly game, we’ve gotten better as a midfield as a whole.”

City has picked up results in their last two matches but had more possession and completed more passes in all three. Vieira said Lopez brings energy and enthusiasm to the right side of NYCFC’s midfield.

“Having those two allows Andrea to be more on the ball,” Vieira said. “That is the strength of a deep roster. Mix [Diskerud] did quite well in the games he played but I just felt that the team needed more of a defensive security and that’s why I went with Mikey and Fede.”

Pirlo has license to get farther upfield to create chances. That requires Lopez and Bravo to cover the ground beneath him. Though the trio have been largely successful in limiting chances for the opposition, Lopez and Bravo are both one yellow card away from a suspension. Vieira said he wanted both players to be mindful of that while remaining true to their themselves.

“I always repeat to them and the back four that if you’re reading the game and defending well, you don’t need to go to ground,” Vieira said. “To be on the floor is the last challenge, the last option. What I ask is for them to stay on their feet and defend. They just have to control themselves.”

Lopez’s inclusion has come at Diskerud’s expense. The American international has come off the bench in each of the three games. Vieira, however, said Diskerud remains integral to his plans. The same holds true for Thomas McNamara who has played the last three games at left wing.

“[McNamara] was central and I was really happy with him but I decided to move him wide because I felt we needed more support for David [Villa],” Vieira said. “At the moment, things are going well and we will keep working hard.”

All of Vieira’s midfield rotation has come while Frank Lampard and Kwadwo Poku have largely been non-factors this season. Lampard continues to struggle for fitness while Poku has only one shot in 169 minutes of action. Whether both of them become vital pieces to Vieira’s midfield like Lopez and Diskerud remain to be seen.

If they do, Vieira has no problem experimenting to develop a better understanding between him and his players.

“We played the first two games with Tommy and Mix as an eight and ten and today we play with Andrea and Mikey who are completely different,” Vieira said. “I still have a lot to learn from the players in different positions but that is the perspective that I was expecting to go through and I think it’s really interesting to have players who can express in different positions.”