In a soccer galaxy that was full of stars stretched over two seasons, one star seemed to shine just that much brighter than the rest.
Anthony Lopez, the phenomenal sophomore who lit up the field for the North Bay League champion Santa Rosa Panthers, is that bright light.
Lopez, the Panthers’ center midfielder, notched a team-leading 13 goals and 10 assists on the season on his way to be named 2015-165 All-Empire Large School Player of the Year.
Slight of build but fleet of foot, Lopez could do it all for the dominating Panthers.
An opposing coach had one word for Lopez: “Phenomenal.”
Anytime Lopez had the ball at his feet, he was a threat, said coach Antonio Garcia.
“There is a reason why he gets called to the men’s training center. There’s a reason why his team just won State Cup. There’s a reason why we did so well,” Garcia said. “He is pretty much everywhere there seems to be success.”
He is also pretty much everywhere on the field.
Garcia said he doesn’t usually allow his players to roam or drift around the field, but with Lopez, he cuts him loose. And that’s because Lopez usually takes himself to the right space for that moment.
“His soccer IQ is better that most players, it’s better than most adults. He’s just on another level,” he said.
“He’s the cream of the crop,” he said.
Among talents like Rancho Cotate’s Enrike “Kiki” Gomez and Kevin Juarez, Montgomery’s Bryan Mora, Casa’s Maurilio Lopez-Para and Panthers teammate Edwin Martinez, Lopez was the most dynamic player on the area’s best boys team. While the Sonoma County League teams played one final season in the fall, they will join their NBL cohorts next year, bringing the likes of Petaluma’s Dino Santia and Marco Silveira, Healdsburg’s Juan Nuño and Elsie Allen’s Jesus Torres, and play in the winter.
In a North Bay League chase that was hotly contested every game out, it was Santa Rosa, behind a talented roster loaded with 11 seniors that went 11-1-2 to win the pennant. They also secured the No. 1 seed in the North Coast Section tournament — the first time the NBL teams had joined the competitive contingent playing soccer in the winter.
But the Panthers fell 3-2 in overtime of the semifinal to the No. 5 seed and eventual winner, Monte Vista of Danville.
“We really wanted to take it all,” Lopez said. “Most of us non-seniors were doing it for the seniors.”
“We were still proud of ourselves because we made it that far,” he said. “But winning it all was what we wanted, but it was still a success getting that far. Not many teams can do that.”
The final game of the season had one of Lopez’s most memorable moments. Down 2-0 at halftime after a listless opening 40 minutes, the Panthers’ tying goal came from unlikely place — Lopez’s head.
A cross from Edwin Martinez somehow made it through a sea of bodies and Lopez knocked it home with his noggin.
Being in the right place at the right time is part of his intelligence.
“I’m not the tallest and the defenders were really tall so that was really surprising,” he said.