By John Philip Wyllie
In the twenty odd years of its existence, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has seen a lot of great players come and go, but until recently there has never been a Mexican-American player among them. That changed in March of 2005 when University of Portland defender, Stephanie Lopez made her debut against Denmark in the Algarve Cup. Since then, she has added six additional caps including one last weekend against Chinese Tapei at Carson’s Home Depot Center.
“Stephanie has been very consistent in her play,” according to U.S. national team coach, Greg Ryan.” She is one of our best outside backs in terms of coming forward to help us keep possession of the ball. For a young player, she is exceptionally composed and skillful. She is a good defensive player, but right now she is even better when possessing the ball and moving forward into the attack. That is a quality that is rare for us. She plays great entry passes up to our midfielders and forwards and she is very good at serving balls. We know what we are going to get with Stephanie and that is what sets her apart.”
Playing for the senior national team is just one of the many things that this incredible 20-year old Elk Grove native has been doing. Lopez played every minute of the six matches in the recent U-19 World Championship in Thailand. The U.S. took third place in that one. Then she captained the U.S. U-20 team in their World Championship tournament in Russia last month leading them to a fourth place finish. Lopez as a sophomore last season at the University of Portland also played a key role on the Pilot’s NCAA championship team and still managed somehow to maintain her academic standing.
“There are a lot of great people in my life helping me and supporting me. I just focus on one day at a time. It can be intimidating and overwhelming, so I never look too far in advance.”
Several years ago, Lopez considered briefly playing for the Mexican national team, an option she had available by virtue of the fact that her grandfather was born south of the border. While that might have been a faster way for her to get involved in top-level international competition, she elected instead to pursue her long held dream of representing the country of her birth.
“That was about six years ago and I didn’t yet want to give up on my hope of one day playing for the U.S. My main goal has always been to play for my country and to play on the best team in the world. I wanted to hold out for that for a little bit longer and things came down as I had hoped and now I am here.”
Last month, Lopez had the opportunity to play against Mexico in a friendly held in Rochester, N.Y.
“They are a great team and it was special to play against them,” Lopez said. “I had a sense I guess about what could have been, but I love representing the U.S. It is such an honor. I am very proud of that.”
Now that she has broken into the U.S. senior team pool, her next goal will be to solidify her position and win a coveted spot on the 2007 Women’s World Cup team. On a roster loaded with talent it won’t be easy, but Lopez has never been one to back down from a challenge.
“I want to continue to build my experience with the team. Game experience is really vital to solidifying a position. Developing more confidence and the comfort level with the other players is important too so that I can get into a rhythm with them. I want to continue learning and growing and I think that is a huge thing for any player. You have to always be pushing yourself. Even the veteran players on this team like Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly are still trying to perfect their game.”