While most know Frankie Lopez simply as one of Lincoln’s assistant soccer coaches, he is actually much more than that. The former professional soccer player for the Seattle Sounders is also a mentor, and a hero to kids in a town on the outskirts of Portland.
Born in McMinnville, Oregon, Lopez was the first in his family to be born in the United States. His parents came to the United States from Mexico, and his great grandparents were spanish.
Lopez found his love for soccer by going to his dad’s soccer games in local men’s and Oregon premier leagues as a child. Additionally, his uncle helped drive his passion for the game, as he too played semi-professionally and continued to love the game after he stopped playing.
As a result, Lopez began to play when he was only 3 years old, and throughout his youth, Lopez dominated the competition. As he went onto high school, he started to love the game even more.
According to Lopez, his high school experiences were the “highlight of [his] entire career.”
Part of what made his high school career so enjoyable was overcoming what his school called the “second round curse.” McMinnville High School lost in the second round of the state playoffs his freshman, sophomore, and junior year. However, during his senior year, he was determined to get through the second round of the playoffs.
That year, McMinnville not only made it to the state finals, but they won it in penalty kicks against Jesuit. Lopez remembers that the “entire community was there…at least 3,000-4,000 people from McMinnville.”
According to Lopez, that night changed the community as a whole. More people attend the high school’s soccer games now than before this championship.
It also “unified the McMinnville community. Before the game, there was a conflict between whites and the Mexicans, and (the soccer team) likes to think that game formed a bridge between the two groups,” he said.
Once he finished his high school career, Lopez moved onto college. He was the first in his family to go to college, so he had nobody to guide him through the process of trying to find the right school.
“It was difficult because I didn’t have anyone to help guide me through it,” says Lopez, “my coach didn’t help me, my parents couldn’t help me; I was on my own.”
While Lopez originally hoped to attend Stanford University, he ended up committing to the University of Portland after not being accepted to Stanford. He wanted to stay local enough to McMinnville so his parents could come to his games, and, more importantly, he still wanted to feel that community aspect he loved so much about McMinnville.
Lopez had successful freshman and sophomore seasons. He recorded over 20 goals his sophomore season and helped the Pilots advance to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. However, during the playoffs, Lopez got an offer from a professional team in Mexico in the town where his parents were born and raised.
Unfortunately, during his first season as a pro there, he broke his leg, resulting in over a year of recovery time.
During this time, Lopez had plenty of time to think.
He changed his perspective on life and what he should be doing. He came to the realization that everything he was doing at the moment was for himself. He was playing soccer for himself, pursuing a career where “the whole day revolved around me, and benefiting myself, or an owner for a team that is only looking to make profit.”
Lopez wanted to change this, so he decided to make his way back home. He joined the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League, the second-tier of American soccer leagues.
Soon after, he went to Orlando City, and later he ended up in Seattle to play for the Sounders of Major League Soccer, where he spent his last three years playing professionally.
During his first year in Seattle, Lopez took a trip to El Salvador where he became infected with malaria. As a result, he lost most of his motor functions, taking him out of soccer for roughly a year.
After a full recovery from malaria, he spent his time going back and forth from Seattle to McMinnville, giving back to his community by hosting camps and clinics for young kids with big dreams.
Lopez ended his professional career when he decided to return to McMinnville and start an academy for kids.
“I decided to enjoy the game of soccer by observing it from the sidelines. I now find my love and drive for the game in the success of the kids that I coach,” says Lopez.
His goal is to inspire kids to be like him and to come home from wherever they are and give back to the community as he did, and to never keep anything to yourself.
Lopez runs his academy, Yamhill County Crew, out of McMinnville. Its ultimate goal is to benefit kids who want to pursue the game of soccer, including the students he coaches at Lincoln.
But soccer is not the only thing Lopez is trying to teach. He wants the kids he coaches to eventually help the community, and realise that there is much more to life than themselves.