Alex López knows his Houston Dynamo career did not get off to the start anyone envisioned.
When the 21-year-old landed with the Dynamo in August 2013, head coach Dominic Kinnear felt he had a player who could help in the present and the future. But coming to Houston midseason proved to be a difficult proposition as López was never able to get his fitness level right, and consistent playing time never materialized.
It relegated the Honduran youngster to just two appearances in 11 games.
That is the past, and now he is facing his first full season with the club. If López is going to justify the young Designated Player tag, his path to playing time is clear.
“We had a talk at the end of the year; he needs to be fitter, and he needs to do more in practice if he wants to play in the games,” Kinnear said. “He has to do what everybody else does, work hard to get minutes. It’s not going to be handed to you, and I think all the players understand that.”
López arrived in the middle of the hottest time of the year in Houston after a solid stint in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. However, his summer success did not last as he never overcame the Houston heat and struggled to catch up to the players around him.
“Physically, it was an impediment,” López said through a translator. “I wasn’t able to assimilate to the club and do what they wanted of me.”
Kinnear has seen it before, last year in fact with Servando Carrasco and other summer signings.
“I think sometimes coming in halfway through the season… it just kind of smacks you in the face. I think [López] was a little overweight before he came here,” he said.
Unable to get going, López was a spectator as Houston made a run to the MLS Cup Playoffs and eventually the Eastern Conference Championship, not the playmaker many hoped he would be. And as his new team and mentor, Catracho star Boniek García, battled for their playoff lives, López sat the bench, never earning the chance to help.
“I think the pressure’s always there because I’m a foreigner and expected to come in and perform,” López said. “Now it’s a matter of managing it 100 percent.”
That pressure is there because many, including Kinnear, see the technique and potential in López. If playing at a high level, López can add a creative element to Houston’s midfield – take for example his sole assist (right), on a Jason Johnson goal, in a 3-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls last year.
To show that skill, he must first establish that he arrived in camp fit, as the Dynamo focus on game play in preseason and not getting in shape. After an offseason in Honduras where López spent some much-needed time with family, he is back to show he’s made the adjustment and is ready to take advantage of a full opportunity with Houston.
“That’s the importance of being here with everybody starting from zero,” he said. “It’s now actually good and beneficial to come back to the US and start from zero with everybody.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.