About a year ago, Dominic Kinnear asked Boniek Garcia for some insight on his former club. It was a casual conversation with big consequences, the start of a long process that ended with the Dynamo signing Alexander Lopez this week as a Young Designated Player.
Houston faced C.D. Olimpia twice last year in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage and naturally the head coach sought Garcia's input. The talented winger had arrived at BBVA Compass Stadium from the Hondurans only a few weeks earlier.
"I asked [Garcia] about Olimpia and the way they played and the players, and just on the side I asked him, are there any good midfielders that you can recommend?" said Kinnear. "The first name he said was Alex Lopez."
The young playmaker was an unused substitute when the teams drew 1-1 in Honduras on August 30 last year but started and played for 70 minutes in a 1-1 tie in the return fixture in Texas on October 23.
"Normally you don't watch the other team when you're playing them but we did kind of keep an eye on him," said Kinnear. "I thought he was a good player and I continued to watch him not only for that but the Olympics and obviously this Gold Cup because it was a young team they were putting out, I wanted to see how his leadership was and I thought he was very good for them ... When teams play against you, you can read guys that way, see how they do against your team."
Garcia is delighted that his tip paid off and he is about to be joined in orange by his fellow Honduras international. Lopez could arrive a few days before next week's home game against the Seattle Sounders, depending on when his visa is confirmed.
"He's a great player, someone who can definitely contribute to the club and help us get to where we want to be, MLS Cup," Garcia told HoustonDynamo.com through a translator.
"He's a player who is very versatile, he can play a number of positions, he has very good technique and can make himself available in tight spaces and get into the box. Definitely a nice person, very easy-going."
Garcia said he spoke with Lopez when the transfer was confirmed and that the player is excited about the move and ready for the challenges of life in MLS. "We have talked in the past about the club and MLS and I've told him it's very competitive on a daily basis. There's a lot of running, it's physically demanding. He knows what he's getting into," the 28-year-old said.
Lopez has eight caps for the national team and is considered a rising star in his home country. He made four starts and one substitute appearance for Honduras in last month's Gold Cup, including the game against Trinidad & Tobago at BBVA Compass Stadium. The 21-year-old also played three times in last year's London Olympics, an experience which Garcia said helped Lopez to mature as a player and person.
His record of 18 goals and 34 assists in 51 league games for Olimpia testifies to his creative and goalscoring potential. Kinnear expects to use Lopez in a variety of positions.
"He's a good midfielder, can play out wide, in the middle, a good passer of the ball and he has good movement. Even though he's 21 he has good experience at the professional level and he's going to come in and help us," he said.
"He's scored some great goals. I think in the last year his minutes increased with Olimpia and therefore his production increased. That's the sign of a good player, he's not satisfied. From our understanding he's very hungry and happy to be coming here.
"He's played some good internationals, he's just on the fringe of making that senior team for World Cup qualifiers, he's been involved in squads. Speaking to the Honduran coach [Luis Fernando Suárez], he speaks very highly of him as well, feels he's got a lot more growth to go and is a very capable player."
The start of Champions League play as the MLS regular season creeps towards its climax means the coming months will be crammed for the Dynamo. The team has six games in August and seven in September. So Kinnear is planning on treating Lopez as a player of great potential who can also contribute straight away.
"When you look at the schedule we have coming up, he's going to play. And he'll probably play in the middle and he'll probably play out wide. I don't think we're going to designate him in one place because of the amount of shuffling we're going to have to do with this line-up coming into these games. It's going to be a lot, some guys are going to be asked to do some things they're not normally doing but it's in sacrifice to the team and he's no different," he said.
Kinnear says that Lopez's arrival adds midfield depth which is critical given the inevitable absences due to injury, international duty and suspension that rack up during every season.
"We have three guys out wide, really – natural wide guys with Boney [Garcia], Andrew [Driver] and Brad [Davis]. But Brad's playing a lot of games and Boney's playing a lot of games with internationals, Andrew Driver obviously has picked up a little bit of an injury. So you always want a guy who's comfortable going forward with the ball," he said.
"A lot of people I've noticed have said, 'you've got a lot of midfielders'. But if you look at the attacking part of it, the three main attackers are those three guys and at times we've only had one of those guys available. So I think to have another guy in that type of mold of looking to go forward, his movement, is an important one for us. That's the reason why we were looking at him."
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.