FC Dallas-El Paso director Mike Lopez talks about how he got his start in directing the sport. Bret Bloomquist/El Paso TimesBuy Photo
Mike Lopez always planned to devote his life to soccer, to teaching the game and growing the sport to all ages.
That's a path that led the 1989 Bel Air graduate to his current position as director of FC Dallas-El Paso and to director of six different leagues that operate on the east side of El Paso.
The affiliation with FC Dallas will keep him from having too much connection with the USL team coming to El Paso next year, but Lopez is excited to become one of the yet-to-be-named team's first season-ticket holders.
Saturday morning, at Salvador Rivas Jr. Spray Park on the far east side, he watched over a park full of soccer fields, full of 6-year-olds kicking balls around, knowing that this was where almost two decades of working in the sport led him.
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In 1990, "I was with the Patriots, one day the owner came in and asked me if I wanted to do a camp for El Paso Community College," Lopez said. "That’s where he had our practices, so I did it that summer. The year after that they came directly to me, El Paso Community College. Then the YMCA, then people started asking me if I did private training, group training. Yes I do. So I did that. It evolved."
Lopez runs a five-on-five league, a six-on-six league, indoor, 11-on-11 men, 11-on-11 coed and the youth league he was at Saturday. All total, more than 1,000 people participate in the leagues he runs.
The big title is the director of the FC Dallas-El Paso program, which in eight years has sent 24 players to the parent academy in Dallas. Of those, 13 have graduated to college scholarship soccer, four have signed pro contracts, and two, Alejandro Zendejas and Aaron Guillen, played for FC Dallas.
That's exactly what FC Dallas pictured eight years ago when it founded its El Paso branch.
"I make sure we follow the curriculum FC Dallas wants us to do, make sure the kids we send out to Dallas are the right kids, that they are good at school, good as a person," Lopez said of his role. "It's very exciting, very rewarding. There’s a real sense of accomplishment when you see one of your players sign a contract."
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His involvement with young soccer players starts well before that. As a child growing up in the Marmolejo projects, Christmas for him was a new soccer ball. Now he heads back to his childhood home each December and distributes 100 soccer balls to the children of Marmolejo.
"I knew soccer was my opportunity," Lopez said. "There was a lot of bad stuff going on around there, soccer kept me out of trouble. I want these children to get a soccer ball, every Christmas I go there to give back."
What Lopez also finds exciting is the USL coming to El Paso.
"It will definitely be good for El Paso," Lopez said. "There is so much talent here. FC Dallas knows how much talent is here. This is going to open up more opportunities for the talent we have in El Paso. Dallas can only take so many, there is so much more."
And so much of it has, one way or another, been nurtured by Lopez.
Bret Bloomquist may be reached at 546-6359; firstname.lastname@example.org; @bretbloomquist on Twitter.