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2020 Sacramento Republic player postmortem: Rodrigo Lopez

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Talisman returned and took on new role.

Courtesy of Republic FC.

Rodrigo Lopez made a big return to Sacramento Republic FC in 2020. The midfielder, possibly the most beloved player in club history, came back after five seasons playing in Mexico for three different clubs, and it was rightly regarded as a triumphant homecoming.

Coming back five years after setting the USL alight the first time around with Sacramento, Lopez was much older and joining a vastly different league. While the return was certainly emotional, there were questions about whether he would be up for the new-look USL Championship in the same manner as he had been last time.

Overall, he certainly could hang in the league, playing the majority of games and keeping fresh despite being 33 years old for most of the season.

Here are Lopez’s statistics in 2020:

Rodrigo Lopez 2020 Statistics

2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 13 10 875 1 3 22 7 4 1
Playoffs 1 1 73 0 0 2 0 1 0
Total 14 11 948 1 3 24 7 5 1

This time with the club, Lopez was less an attacking force and some of that was by design. At times, he played a regista role, moving deep in midfield, having more defensive responsibilities than he typically did in his first stint in Sacramento, but still counted on to keep the ball moving around the field.

As a result, playing further back much of the time and having more split responsibilities meant Lopez didn’t fill up the goals and assists columns, one goal and three assists paling in comparison to his twin 10-goal seasons in 2014 and 2015 for Sac Republic. Do I think the level of the league these days, coupled with Lopez’s age, contributed to the production decline? No question. But I also think it’s worth putting in context he was not playing the same role this year. Had he been a No. 10 and/or pushed right behind the central striker, he almost certainly would have had more goals and assists.

So credit to him for rolling with it, and it wasn’t a surprise, exactly, since he had played in this role for the most part in Mexico. Still, for some players it would have been mighty tempting to want to move upfield again and ball out, but he fit in the system Mark Briggs put in place.

And let’s take another look at his goal, which was a last-minute equalizer against Tacoma Defiance in September.

It felt like Lopez was gearing up to retire with Sacramento Republic, come back for this stint, maybe play two or three years here, and then walk out on his terms. But that’s not happening, as the team told him he would not be coming back for 2021. That was certainly a shock, considering the deep bond between the community and player, and because Lopez indicated he was caught off guard.

After initially vowing to press on with his career, Lopez appears to be at a crossroads, according to Evan Ream, who said in recent days Lopez doesn’t want to move his family again and would take a pay cut to stay with Sac Republic.

I have to admit, it doesn’t feel satisfying for it to end like this. Lopez has been the talisman for Sacramento Republic’s history — even hometown guy Cameron Iwasa doesn’t have exactly the same emotional attachment to the club, I don’t think. Lopez helped deliver a USL title to Sac Republic, and lit the league alight last time out. Letting him walk away before he’s ready to go hurts because it feels like he’s earned the right to go out on his terms.

I think even as he wraps up his playing career, Lopez’s skills as a leader and mentor can’t necessarily be replaced so easily, and in letting him walk, that may be the intangible aspect that’s being forgotten. Again, I hope the club reconsiders and gives him another year if he wants it, but as we’re always told, it’s a business and maybe the gears of the soccer industry don’t stop turning for anyone. Even Rodrigo Lopez.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.