Hopes were high when Alexander Lopez joined the Houston Dynamo in the summer of 2013. The young Honduran joined the club as a Young Designated Player after starting four games and subbing on in another during Honduras' semifinal run in the 2013 Gold Cup.
Darrell Lovell, the Houston Dynamo beat writer for the MLS, referred to Lopez as one of Honduras' "bright young stars," and Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear made it sound like a move that would pay dividends in the early running.
"I think it's a good move overall for the team," head coach Dominic Kinnear said. "We felt it was a good to have a young guy with experience. He's played in a handful of games for Honduras, especially in the last Gold Cup. 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."
Two years and 12 appearances later, Lopez finds himself on the bench more than on the line-up sheet. What needs to happen for Alexander Lopez to break into the starting lineup?
He admitted to Honduran publication Tiempo that his inability to speak English led to some difficulties but that's something that can be practiced. Lopez will need to regain the form he showed in the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Gold Cup to challenge the other midfielders for playing time.
Houston has plenty of midfield talent. Fellow Honduran Oscar Boniek Garcia and Dynamo legend Brad Davis will take the pitch more often than not. Luis Garrido -- also from Honduras -- joined after the 2014 World Cup and saw playing time immediately, and Ricardo Clark has World Cup experience in addition to the time he spent playing in Europe between Dynamo stints. This quartet of players has four midfield spots locked up so the key could be the formation.
If the Carolina Cup Challenge is any indication, the formation is fluid at best. Coyle primarily used a traditional 4-4-2 setup but used a slightly different strategy against New York City FC by using Lopez as more of a second striker rather than an out-and-out striker.
Although Lopez is best suited to play the role as an attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, Coyle believes a two-striker approach is the best fit for the Dynamo, so Lopez's best bet would be to play behind the club's main striker, much like he did in two preseason starts against Austin Aztex and New York City FC.
Lopez needs to impress in the limited amount of time he gets on the field to really sink in the starting eleven, and he showed some creative capability in both of those matches.
It could come down to where the manager decides to place Oscar Boniek Garcia. Garcia is most comfortable playing on the right wing but had his best performance of the preseason playing behind Bruin against Orlando City SC.
If he decides Garcia's play in Houston's final preseason match merited his place as the second striker, Lopez's other option would be playing as a box-to-box midfielder. That could be a problem though because Luis Garrido and Ricardo Clark have taken the bulk of the starts in central midfield and the pair has played well enough to earn their place in the starting lineup.
It doesn't look like he's going to get starting time out of the gate so Houston should explore possible loans to Charleston or even back to Honduras for six months to get playing time. Alexander Lopez has the potential to be a special player and needs playing time in order to succeed.