Tom Robinson writes a detailed scout report about the Paraguay and Atlanta United striker, Erik Lopez.
When it comes to Paraguayan football, much of the recent international media attention has focused on the brief sojourns of two charismatic foreign stars. The world was captivated by Ronaldinho’s bizarre incarceration while Olimpia’s surprise signing of Emmanuel Adebayor got tongues wagging too.
Both stays, however, were short-lived and the latter departed Asuncion having played just four games and without having hit the back of the net. The only impression Adebayor left was the studmarks in the shoulder of Defensa y Justicia’s Enzo Coacci as the Togolese striker saw red in their Libertadores group stage game.
For all the fanfare of Olimpia’s marquee signing of Adebayor and the continued brilliance of veteran goalgetter Roque Santa Cruz, another striker has been generating a lot of buzz around El Bosque. Erik Lopez burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old, scoring on his debut against Deportivo Santani last August. The young forward continued his blistering start to his professional career by going on to score in his next two games and announced himself as one of the most exciting young talents in the country.
Yet another success story of the Fundacion Franjeada, founded in 2014 by club president Marco Trovato and that has gone on to generate more than $16 million in transfer sales, Lopez’s performances have caught the attention of Atlanta Utd, who have moved swiftly to secure the Paraguayan’s signing for a reported $3.7million, potentially rising to $5million, on a four year contract.
Atlanta have been one of the pioneers in the growing MLS trend of cleverly recruiting younger South American talent such as Josef Martinez, compatriot Miguel Almiron and Ezequiel Barco – rather than seasoned European veterans looking to see out their career – and Lopez marks the next step in their intelligent strategy.
So what can Atlanta Utd fans expect from their new signing?
One of the first things you notice about Lopez’s game is his intelligence, manifested primarily in his decision-making and his penalty-box anticipation. Once you factor in his young age and his relative lack of experience, it makes this trait all the more impressive and certainly gives him the edge over other players at the same stage in their development.
More often the not Lopez makes the right decisions in the final third, whether that be knowing the right moment to take the shot himself or pick out a teammate, as demonstrated by some of the examples below of Lopez’s unselfish assists.
Lopez’s intelligence is also displayed by his good anticipation and movement around the box which gives him that split second advantage to allow him to get into goal-scoring positions. Here we see Lopez’s anticipation and quick reactions to notice the space in behind his striker partner’s run away from goal, catching the defence cold and having a one-on-one chance at goal.
Here we see Lopez’s intelligent movement, looping his run in front of the marker and making a dart towards the near post, before receiving the slide rule pass and allowing him to unleash a shot on goal.
Another of Lopez’s most notable characteristics is his pace. As with any modern forward, this speed allows him to get in behind defences when operating on the shoulder of the last defender, as per the image below, while his good acceleration helps him create half a yard in the penalty box too.
Lopez’s pace with the ball also makes him very dangerous in 1v1 attacking duels. Thanks to his low centre of gravity, balance and directness, Lopez can beat an opponent with ease and typically averages a 46.5% success rate with his dribbling.
With his aforementioned intelligence and speed, Lopez is an extremely versatile forward. Typically a second striker who works well in tandem with a more traditional centre forward, Lopez can also work the channels well and even play on either flank in a front three. His heatmap below shows his mobility across the front line.
Here we see various examples of Lopez operating on both the right and left of front threes, as well in his more typical central role. This tactical flexibility should make him a very useful member of Atlanta’s fluid attack.
Predominantly right-footed but not afraid to shoot with his left, Lopez has four goals from sixteen appearances for Olimpia and two goals in four games for the Paraguay U23s. What’s interesting to note is that the vast majority of his shots – including all of his goals – have come from inside the box and he averages a 48% shot accuracy, suggesting that he doesn’t tend to take speculative shots from range and does his best work inside the box as something of a poacher.
Despite not being that tall (5’9’’) and not being particularly bulky (68kg), Lopez is deceptively strong and uses his body and low centre of gravity well to protect the ball and bounce off challenges, giving him a bullish quality.
In the example below, we see him drop deep to collect the ball and, with his back to goal, uses his strength to spin off his man and allow him to use his pace to drive forward and get Olimpia on the attack.
Again here we see how Lopez can mix it with physical tussles and keep his composure. Given that you would expect him to develop and mature in the coming years, it bodes well that as a teenager he already has that physicality already, without having to overly rely on it either.
It’s still early days in Lopez budding career but the foundations of a very talented forward are there to see. Whether it be as someone to help fill the gap left by Josef Martinez’s injury or to compete with the likes of Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez, Lopez clearly represents a long term project for Atlanta but one who could nevertheless come in and contribute immediately too.
Read all our articles about Young Players here.