• In three varsity seasons, Christian Lopez has delivered 42 goals and 26 assists for Crescent City. (MARK BLUMENTHAL / Palatka Daily News)

2018-19 Prep Boys Soccer Player of the Year: Keep It In The Family

Christian Lopez applies what he learned from his brothers to lead Raiders

At an early age, Christian Lopez knew he had something going on with his soccer game.

“I try to be humble sometimes, but it was about 5 or 6,” the Crescent City High School standout said. “I would always practice with my brothers (Johnny and Victor) when I was younger. Even though I had jobs on the side, they always found room to practice and even though they had a smaller brother, they’d always bring me along, too.”

The work Lopez did with his immediate family has paid off with the work he’s done in three years with his Raider soccer family. 

In three varsity seasons, Lopez has delivered 42 career goals and 26 assists. His play has helped the Raiders reach the postseason all three years. And from his center-midfield position, Lopez has been a huge contributor, this year leading Putnam County with 21 goals scored, while adding 11 assists for 53 points, also tops.

It is no surprise that Lopez is honored as the Daily News’ Boys Soccer Player of the Year, making Lopez the sixth different Raider to win it in this decade after Veit Couturier (2009-10, ‘10-11), John Spence (2012-13), Cesar Maldonado (2013-14), Porfirio Gonzalez (2015-16) and Jose Mancilla (2016-17).

Not only has Lopez been a part of three state tournament teams, part of a six-year run of state berths for the Raiders, but he’s been part of a district championship team his freshman year and an Elite Eight run as a sophomore.

Lopez became the leader of this year’s Raiders, having to take on big roles both offensively as a ball distributor who wasn’t afraid to finish and be a defensive guy when asked to help support a strong defense in front of a freshman goalkeeper.

“I always have that mindset that we can go far because we always have a good team regardless,” Lopez said. “We always have that chemistry, but I don’t think they really believed in themselves that they could be great. Our guys didn’t have as much as experience (from the year before), so they didn’t think they’d be as good as others.”

Still, the Raiders won the top seed with a new version of the team, losing in the District 5-2A title game to Alachua Santa Fe, 1-0. The Raiders, who finished 15-8-3, lost to The Villages, 4-1, in the Region 2-2A quarterfinal.

“Christian took more of a leadership role this year,” said Raiders coach Jeff Lease, the winner of 48 matches in his three years of coaching the program with Lopez. “Last year with a lot of the seniors on the team, they were helpful in us going far. But even last year, those seniors looked toward him. This year, when we took a lead, a number of times, I moved him back to play defense in the midfield along with (senior) Hector Cruz. Christian is a distributor and loves to give the ball off to other people. If we were behind, I’d move him closer to the goal because he could find a way to score for us. He could do just about anything.”

With a number of players returning next season, don’t expect these Raiders to skip a beat, especially in a district that they can rule without Santa Fe in it anymore. 

“I feel like I’m going to have way more control next year,” Lopez said. “I’m going to try to get so much better with my touch and my shots. I work on it all the time. If I have to be physical, I’ll be physical, but when I have my teammates there, we just play touch. We all have our mindsets to just get (the ball) to the goal.”

“I don’t know if anyone can shoot the ball like he can,” Lease said. “That would help us more if he did that next year. We may not have enough up front to score, so if we don’t score enough, he may have to be put up front to do that.”

And just trying to help out the family.

BOYS SOCCER PLAYERS OF YEAR 

1998–Chris McKittrick, Interlachen
1999–Jared Guy, Palatka
2000-03–None selected
2004–Nathaniel Regl, Palatka 
2005–Carlos Villegas, Crescent City 
2006–Carlos Villegas, Crescent City
2007–Jason Cannon, Palatka
2008–Francisco Martinez, Palatka
2009–Nehum Stoleo, Crescent City
2010–Veit Couturier, Crescent City
2011–Veit Couturier, Crescent City
2012–D’Mario Woodward, Palatka
2013–John Spence, Crescent City
2014–Cesar Maldonado, Crescent City
2015–Mark Lennartz, Interlachen
2016–Porfirio Gonzalez, Crescent City
2017–Jose Mancia, Crescent City
2018–Caleb Herrington, Palatka
2019–Christian Lopez, Crescent City

Palatka Daily News

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