It almost seems scripted, doesn't it? The rumors around the eventual signing of US national Clint Dempsey by the Seattle Sounders on 3 August sparked a firestorm that quickly spread throughout every MLS fanbase. Houston Dynamo supporters took to Twitter, this blog, and other places asking majority owners AEG and/or the Dynamo front office when an major signing was going to happen here in Houston. And what do you know? Three days later - almost as if in response to the outcry - rumors start to swirl (I believe they started with @TotalMLS) linking 21 year-old Honduran midfielder Alex Lopez to a move with the Dynamo, a move that was finalized earlier today.
Except, of course, it wasn't scripted at all. Dynamo supporters should be quite familiar with Lopez in various capacities. He's even played at BBVA Compass Stadium twice, both with his former club against the Dynamo in the CONCACAF Champions League (Olimpia, 23 October 2012) and as a Honduran national team player against Trinidad and Tobago in the Gold Cup (15 July 2013). Lopez started in both of those matches - indeed, he was the captain of the national team for their match in Houston - and while he didn't score or notch an assist in either, he left a lot of Dynamo fans singing his praises.
The fans weren't alone, either. Dominic Kinnear has praised his versatility and his skills on the ball, and noted "He's played in big games before in Honduras and Olimpia, so we know he won't be overawed with anything that comes our way." Indeed, Lopez is a player the Dynamo have been after since last summer, when Lopez's countryman, Boniek Garcia, passed his name along as a player that he thought Kinnear should be watching.
And watch, Kinnear did. After getting a close up look during Champions League play here in Houston (Lopez didn't play when the two sides met two months previously in Tegucigalpa, Honduras), the Dynamo took a shot at trying to complete a transfer during the winter months, at which point his name became known to Dynamo fans in general. As a younger player and a former teammate of Boniek, he was generally perceived as somebody worth signing - and several writers and commenters on this blog went on record as saying that if they had the chance, they'd sign him (myself among them).
But, as well all know, the winter transfer window passed without a deal getting done, and so Alex Lopez faded from the minds of most Dynamo fans for half a year. Indeed, few of us even mentioned the previous connection when talking about Lopez's play during the Gold Cup. In that tournament, with rosters composed mainly of youth and players on the fringes of rosters, Lopez played in all five matches - starting four of them - and notched the lone assist in Honduras' 1-0 win over Costa Rica in the quarterfinals.
But again, he seemed to be flying beneath the radar for a lot of Houston fans. Even when he played a full ninety minutes in front of a sold out BBVA Compass Stadium, the talk was of how a Honduran side (that had already gotten through to the knockout stages) resting many of its key players was not as effective and controlling as a Trinidad and Tobago side that was playing for a chance to advance. I'm sure the extremely pro-Honduran crowd noticed Lopez and his play, but the majority of Dynamo fans did not.
And so it came as a shock to some that his name had once more come up as a possible target for the Dynamo. The fans ay have stopped thinking about him, but Kinnear hadn't. Nor had team president Chris Canetti, who spent the better part of a week in talks with MLS and Olimpia in an attempt to complete a deal before the transfer window closed Thursday. This time, they were successful, and the young man Olimpia supporters call the "Honduran Maradona" will soon be on his way to Houston to join Boniek Garcia and the rest of the Dynamo in what I've already predicted will be an exhausting charge in both league and Champions League play over the next twelve weeks.
As per normal league policies, the terms of the transaction were not disclosed, though the transfer fee is rumored to be somewhere around $1 million. Lopez will be on the roster as a Designated Player, though his age and the fact that this is a midseason signing means that the Dynamo's budget will not take the hit it would for an older DP. Lopez's salary will count as $150,000 against the cap - space that the Dynamo had to make room for with their waiver of Luis Camargo back in late June. Indeed, the fact that Camargo's departure freed up nearly $200,000 of cap space, an international roster spot and a position in the midfield depth chart seems to indicate that Kinnear and Canetti had always considered Lopez as their prize signing.
While Canetti has said that the Dynamo are aiming to have him in uniform by the time the Sounders come to Houston next Saturday, I expect that for the moment, Lopez will mainly be used in Champions League play, which starts on 20 August in Marabella, Trinidad and Tobago. In regards to Lopez's role, Kinnear stated that "you have an eye for the future, but you can never predict the future so you plan for the present, and I think he can help us now," which tells me one thing - regardless of how they utilize the Honduran, they are going to utilize him.
Lopez is listed in various places as a central attacking midfielder/trequartista, but also has the ability to play on the wings, a versatility that makes it easier for Kinnear to slot him in to a loaded midfield. There will be headaches involved, of course - Brad Davis, Boniek Garcia, Ricardo Clark and Giles Barnes are mainstays in the starting XI, and Andrew Driver and Adam Moffat, when healthy, are generally in the mix as well. Add to that a corps of youngsters such as Alex Dixon, Brian Ownby (currently still out on loan) and a player like Warren Creavalle, who has played in both defense and the midfield this season, and it's evident that the role of Alex Lopez is about as clear as mud at this point.
Still, it's a good problem to have, and the addition of Lopez gives the Dynamo yet another attacking midfielder to go along with an already formidable roster and a striker corps that's slowly returning to full strength and health. This is a case in which I'd rather have too many options than too few, and the signs all point to Lopez being a valuable addition to the Dynamo - not just for this season, but for seasons to come. In the end, after all the sound and the fury, the Dynamo got their man - a man Kinnear thinks is a "a young international with a bright future."
Just how bright? In just 51 career league matches with Olimpia, Lopez scored 18 goals and assisted on 34 others. He's added a few more in both Champions League and international play, and he's still just 21. For a bit more excitement and proof, here's the Dynamo's official welcome video, complete with a bit of a highlight reel:
With all that being said, I have but one more thing to add: ¡Bienvenido a Houston, Alexander López!