Recently at his family’s home Milton Lopez was unloading some groceries when he dropped a lemon. The expected next thing for the Irving junior soccer player to do was to simply bend over and pick it up, but that would have gone against his instincts.
“I used my feet to pick the lemon up and I kicked it up to where I could grab it. I do that [kind of] things on the ground all the time,” Lopez said. “If there’s any ball on the ground I will kick it, like a tennis ball or a basketball.”
Obviously that includes soccer balls too, and when it comes to putting them in the backs of nets in North Texas in 2022 he is currently the best.
Lopez has scored 28 goals, the most among The Dallas Morning News’ area leaders, just ahead of Euless Trinity’s Emmanuel Rutiaga (26). He has already surpassed his 2021 total of 21.
He has six hat tricks this season, including three-goal games against perennial powers such as Plano and Flower Mound Marcus. Lopez also has 10 assists.
More importantly for Lopez, he has been a key part of Irving — ranked No. 8 in The Dallas Morning News’ Class 6A area rankings — compiling a 12-4-2 record and being in the District 7-6A title hunt with No. 4-ranked Richardson J.J. Pearce (14-2-4) and Lake Highlands (9-5-2). Irving hosts J.J. Pearce on Friday.
Lopez said he is somewhat uncomfortable receiving individual praise and he is quick to deflect that praise to teammates such as Caleb Ceteno (who has 12 assists), Sebastian Gonzalez (11 assists) and Elian Valerino.
“I have scored the goals with the help of my teammates. They put me in the position to put the ball in the back of the net,” Lopez said. “I have scored goals because my teammates have made it easier for me.”
Lopez has put in the work too, with some help from his soccer-savvy family. The lifelong Irving resident has played the sport since the was four years old.
Lopez’s father, also named Milton, played professional soccer in Mexico. His sister Cynthia was also an Irving soccer standout, and this past November helped the Brookhaven College women’s team win the NJCAA Division III national title in Batavia, N.Y. Cynthia is a defender, leading to some one-on-one confrontations with her little brother when they were kids.
“We would go against each other and she would beat me until I was 6 or 7,” Lopez said. “She helped learn that I had to go all-out.”
Lopez said he is inspired by Brazilian international star forward Neymar of Paris Saint-Germain as well as Luis Morales of the Dallas Sidekicks, who helped the 2018 Irving squad advance to the Class 6A state semifinals. Lopez watched that team fall in a state semifinal to Alief Elsik and is hoping to lead this year’s team back there because, in his words, the 2018 squad had misfortune in finishing scoring opportunities and bad bounces.
Irving coach Don Danford said Lopez first caught his attention in 2019 when he played for Austin Middle School in the Irving city championship. He was impressed with the next year because Lopez had the ability to play any position except goalie.
Lopez was an outside midfielder in 2020 and 2021 before moving to striker this season. Lopez scored 21 goals as a sophomore. Danford said Lopez has elements of his game that reminds him of past Irving standouts such as Morales, Ivan Soriano and Gerber Chavez, but Lopez — who is 5-foot-10 — has his own style.
“When you look at him he doesn’t look like somebody who will score 30 goals in a season. He is not flamboyant,” said Danford, who has coached at Irving since 2011. “But he is deceptively fast and deceptively strong and puts himself in the position to score goals.
“His evolution in the game he has done himself. Playing soccer is what he wants to do.”
Lopez said he hopes to play soccer on the collegiate level and professionally.
That commitment was made even stronger in perhaps the most difficult setback he has dealt with in the sport. In a 2-0 loss to J.J. Pearce on March 5, 2021 he suffered a fractured fibula in his left leg.
This injury forced him to miss the rest of the season as Irving fell to McKinney Boyd in the area round of the playoffs. He needed approximately three months to recover.
“I went through a lot of things … depression,” Lopez said. “It made me realize how much I liked soccer. I love playing soccer.”