On Monday, Eric Lopez became the youngest player to sign a professional contract with a USL PRO side when he inked a deal with LA Galaxy II – the pseudo reserve team of LA Galaxy.
Lopez’s arrival to the professional level is a bit of a surprise. Goalkeepers tend to develop later and the opportunities for a 15-year-old in that position are limited. There are very few goalkeepers who make much of a mark even in their late teenage years.
While the trajectory of his career is just starting, there is potential there for a special goalkeeper. Lopez already stands well over six-feet tall and has a long, lean frame. Beyond his physical attributes, Lopez has very good positioning for a player his age. He also has a knack for catching the ball away from his body.
In his first few camps with the U.S. U14 Boys National Team, he struggled with distribution at his feet. It was mainly a product of being placed in an uncomfortable situation with head coach Hugo Perez’s style of play, which puts a lot of pressure on goalkeepers to connect passes and deal with playing in tight spaces.
Since then, Lopez has rapidly improved in receiving and passing while under pressure. He’s also improved at organizing his defense while his team retains possession. These are qualities that help on the international stage, but not qualities that translate directly to MLS or USL-Pro.
LA Galaxy is likely going to invest plenty of time into adding muscle to his lean frame in the coming years. The power of shots is quite a bit different at the professional level than the youth level, which should make a priority on increasing his strength in the coming years.
Lopez is an example of a larger problem though. The Galaxy would be better served waiting the few years and seeing how Lopez develops, but the lack of protection on youth prospects and the inability to claim training compensation leaves LA with little time to think about that decision.
With every camp or international trip, there is more exposure on the talented teen who has likely attracted the interest of a number of Mexican clubs over the years. Other clubs salivate over the opportunity to sign prospects on free transfers and Lopez would have been near the top of the list for his age group moving forward.
LA Galaxy’s move could pay off handsomely. The club now owns Lopez’s rights and could potentially promote him to the first team in the coming years. It also means that a move abroad for Lopez would net a profit for the Galaxy and their academy.
Lopez is the one with the risk. He is locked into a contract with the hope that playing time will be available. He plays a position where opportunities are few and far between for younger players. The Galaxy have shown some patience with youth players in the past, and they’ll need to demonstrate that again with a very young goalkeeper now on the books with the club’s reserve team.