Q & A with U.S. Under-18 MNT forward Benji Lopez
U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team forward Benji Lopez is currently on his first trip abroad with the National Team in the Netherlands after earning his initial call up in a January training camp at the beginning of this year. Lopez, who was born in San Diego, Calif., moved to Arizona to live with his sister to play for U.S. Soccer Development Academy side Real Salt Lake Arizona last November. The youngest of four children, Lopez talked to ussoccer.com about his time with the U-18 MNT, scoring against the Netherlands and his growth as a player.
Sep. 17, 2012
© U.S. Soccer
How did you end up getting involved with the Real Salt Lake Arizona Development Academy team?
Benji Lopez: “My older sister’s husband had a job that sent him to Casa Grande, Ariz., and I had no clue that Real Salt Lake had an academy team in Arizona. I played for the San Diego Surf and we played against Real Salt Lake Arizona and I found out about them and how much better their facilities were and I got in contact with the coaches. I went and moved out there and I was living with my sister (beginning last November), but now I’m in their Residency Program.”
ussoccer: How has moving away from home affected you and helped you with the National Team?
BL: “It’s helped me a lot. It’s just made me grow more as a player and a person as well. My work ethic has grown more and more each day. Back at home I wasn’t as concentrated and now I’m away from everything and everything seems to be more in place with my soccer career.”
ussoccer: What has the experience of traveling abroad with the National Team been like?
BL: “I didn’t go on the Portugal trip, but I came to the Netherlands. It has shown me different styles of play and how much higher the level of soccer is over here [in Europe] and how serious it is. It has helped me out by giving me experience and confidence as well.”
ussoccer: How does that motivate you, seeing what it’s like in other parts of the world?
BL: “It motivates me a lot. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s amazing how serious it is over here and how into it people get and it’s an environment that I would like to be able to play in, in front of fans that love the game as much as they do and as much as I do.”
ussoccer: What was it like when you got called in for the first time in January?
BL: “I called my dad. He has always been there for me. He always made an effort to take me to practice. He’s a hardworking dad that doesn’t really have time or money for that. I called him right away to let him know that I got called into a National Team camp. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to happen since I was little and heard of the National Team program. It was kind of a relief, but I was more excited than ever to be able to wear the U.S. patch on my shirt.”
ussoccer: How did you feel when you got called up to this trip to the Netherlands?
BL: “This is just another step and I can’t really explain how I felt in the moment. I was in the airport, sleeping, and I remember opening my e-mail half asleep and as soon as I saw I was called to this camp, I woke up and called my dad and let him know everything. It felt like I accomplished something big and it felt good that they gave me the opportunity to come to this camp.”
ussoccer: What do you think you’ve learned as a player from head coach Javier Perez and your teammates during this camp?
BL: “I’ve learned that U.S. Soccer is close to being head-to-head with these teams over here. It opened my eyes that we’re not that country anymore that gets thrown away by these teams. The way we play as a team, the way we defend and the way we work, it has given me so much more of the experience that I needed and it’s helped me by far.”
ussoccer: How do you think the team has changed or improved since January?
BL: “In the first camp, there were new kids in their first camp and no one really knew each other as they do now. We’ve been together for a couple months now and everyone knows how each other plays and we click together and we’re a team. It turned into something really good, like a family.”
ussoccer: What’s your favorite thing that you’ve done so far in the Netherlands?
BL: “Scoring against Holland. I was throwing my hands around and I lifted up one of my best friends on the bench. I tried to kiss the U.S. badge, but they said I kissed the Nike side on accident. That’s one of the biggest jokes they have on me now. It was a great moment and I was excited.”
ussoccer: What have you learned about yourself and how are you going to take it back to your club?
BL: “To just keep working hard and helping my other teammates out so we can get better. It’s not just about the National Team, but it’s the country’s soccer – playing the ball faster, playing harder and faster. Everything I learned here I’ll try to take it on to the academy and hopefully it carries onto others and I help improve other people as well.”