NYCFC midfielder Miguel “Mikey” Lopez’s childhood idol was Mexican striker Luis “El Matador” Hernández. Born in Dallas, Texas, to a mother from Monterrey and a father from Reynosa, Lopez grew up rooting for El Tri. But when the opportunity to represent the U.S. national team suddenly surfaced, he had no doubts regarding the direction he wanted to take.
“I’m not gonna lie, when I was a kid I followed El Tri. My roots are there, right, but once I started playing with the [U.S.] national team I was full-on USA,” Lopez told me. “I’m a Mexican-American. I play for the U.S. national team, that’s who gave me my first chance and who I’ve been with since Under-15.”
Lopez lived through a particularly challenging moment in his career back in 2013. It was the 113th minute of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship final, Mexico vs. the U.S. The game had gone into extra time after ending level at one apiece at regulation, and El Tri had quickly taken an irreversible two-goal lead. Puebla’s Cuauhtémoc Stadium – packed with more than 40 thousand exuberant fans – triumphantly cheered its hometown heroes by singing “Cielito Lindo.” Porto striker Jesús “Tecatito” Corona was visibly elated, as were and 2011 U-17 legends Julio “La Momia” Gómez and Jonathan Espericueta.
“Those last ten minutes were heartbreaking … especially as they sang ‘Cielito Lindo.’”
For Lopez, the combination of “Cielito Lindo” – a song that he had known and loved his entire life – and the thousands of enlivened fans that filled the historic stadium that night, caused a devastating effect.
“I remember the whole stadium singing ‘Cielito Lindo,’ and they only sing that when they are going to win. I wanted to cry,” he told me during an interview at NYCFC Media Day at Yankee Stadium. “You invest so much energy in the game, and we should’ve won that game. It was the final, but things just didn’t go our way. It was heartbreaking. It was terrible, especially those last ten minutes … especially as they sang ‘Cielito Lindo’.”
“The Mexican players also trash talked, called me Gringo because I played for the U.S., but I’m obviously not [a Gringo],” he added. His words were reminiscent of the classic scene in Selena, that so unforgettably articulated the particular challenges of the Mexican-American experience. “Listen, being Mexican-American is tough,” says Abraham Quintanilla. “Anglos jump all over you if you don’t speak English perfectly. Mexicans jump all over you if you don’t speak Spanish perfectly. We gotta be twice as perfect as anybody else. We gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans.”
Playing alongside the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, and David Villa, Mikey will benefit directly from the attention directed towards New York City FC, which will in turn provide him with a fantastic opportunity to showcase his skills and make his case for a roster spot at Rio 2016. We hope he does, because despite all of the bullshit ethnocentric rhetoric floating around in our current political landscape, Lopez exemplifies the multicultural United States of today.