NYCFC’s Lopez Returns to Full Training

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

PURCHASE, N.Y. — Mikey Lopez clicked his heels together and kept his toes off the sideline. He kept his back straight stretching his arms out in front, hands raised up. Lopez tilted his head down and stood in silent prayer. Two minutes later he walked off the field.

On Thursday, Lopez completed his first full training session of the season after his recovery from an off-season ankle surgery that he said he had been trying to avoid. It was only when rest and platelet rich therapy failed did he opt for surgery in late January. Now he’s ready to return almost a month ahead of schedule.

“It’s good to be back with the team and playing soccer again,” Lopez told EoS.

The operation wound up keeping Lopez sidelined for all of New York City FC’s preseason and the first three weeks of Major League Soccer’s regular season. Yet Lopez said he passed a fitness test earlier this week and is ready to vie for a spot in the match day squad for the team’s next match on April 1.

“I’m training now so I’m shooting for the earliest game,” he said. “I’ll be training full-on so my goal is to try and make an impression and get into the 18 for the upcoming game. If it’s not my turn, it’s not my turn but my goal is to make the 18.”

Although fit, Lopez will have to fight for playing time in a deep midfield. The starting threesome of Maxi Moralez, Andrea Pirlo and Alexander Ring has performed well while there are options off the bench at the box-to-box and holding midfield roles in John Stertzer and Yangel Herrera. Lopez who could also play at right back, said he would be happy with whatever role the coaches ask him to perform. Coach Patrick Vieira said he was glad to see Lopez recover from his injury adding that Lopez remains a useful and versatile option for him.

“What is important for him is the first step and try to get through his injury and try to get back to his best,” Vieira said. “He is a player who is really important because he is a fighter, he is a ball-winner and I can’t wait to have him back in the team.”

Vieira echoed Lopez in saying that he could field Lopez as either the holding or box-to-box midfielder or as an outside back. Lopez admitted that being off the field means he has to catch up on getting up to speed with what Vieira asks of players in any of the three roles.

“Now that I’m back with the team, it means I’ll be able to get more advice on how to play the way he wants me to play,” he said.

Returning to full training during the international break works out for Lopez on that front. Ring (Finland) and Herrera (Venezuela) are with their national teams so there will be plenty of opportunities for Vieira and Lopez to work together over the coming week. For that and the opportunity to play again, Lopez is thankful.

“I’m thankful to be back with the team and thankful to be playing again.”