All-Empire boys large-school soccer: Uncle's memory drives Lopez

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Montgomery High soccer player Diego Lopez got the phone call with the news he’d been selected the large school All-Empire most valuable player for the second straight year, there was silence on the other end of the line.

After a few seconds with no response, the caller thought the two had been disconnected and was ready to hang up. Then, Lopez replied.

“Sorry, I just was just thinking about my late uncle and remembering all the time he spent teaching me the game,” said Lopez, emotion in his voice.

Nicholas Silva, Lopez’s uncle, died tragically in 2004 on a soccer field in Mexico. Nicholas was in his early 30s and Diego was 10.

“His team just finished playing,” Lopez said barely above a whisper. “A man, who wasn’t even playing, walked onto the field and shot my uncle. I think about that every day. It still makes me sad.”

The shooter was quickly apprehended and jailed. It was determined he was intoxicated.

Silva would be proud of his nephew. In his final two years at Montgomery, the 5-foot-6 forward led the Vikings to back-to-back North Bay League championships and North Coast Section Division 1 titles.

The Vikings finished 21-3-3 this past season. Lopez played in 24 of those games, scoring 26 goals and assisting on 14 others.

“Diego has moves you just don’t see at the high school level,” said Jon Schwan, who coached the Vikings in 2011.

His signature shot, and one that always draws “oohs and ahs” from the crowd, begins when he gets in the clear and has only a couple of defenders and the keeper between him and the opposing team’s goal. Running full speed, he moves in one direction and suddenly changes course, all the while keeping the ball at his feet.

That move usually results in the defenders and the keeper sprawled on the turf. Lopez then effortlessly kicks the ball into the open net.

“I dedicate every goal I score to my Uncle Nicholas,” said Lopez, who also plays locally for the Atletico Santa Rosa club. “He took the time to start playing with me when I was 4 years old.

“Back then, we had a big backyard and we would kick the ball back and forth. I didn’t like doing it at first, but he saw something in me and kept encouraging me. He’d make it fun and after a while, I was the one telling him it was time for us to go out and kick the ball.

“I think about my uncle every day and want him to be proud of me. That’s what is pushing me to make it big in soccer.”

This summer, the 17-year-old will travel to Mexico hoping to hook up with a professional team. If that doesn’t pan out, he will return home and enroll at Santa Rosa JC.

“I can see Diego playing Division I college soccer and then professionally,” Schwan said. “He has that much potential.”

2011 ALL-EMPIRE LARGE-SCHOOL BOYS SOCCER

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Diego Lopez, senior, Montgomery

FIRST TEAM
Jorge Alvarez, senior, Elsie Allen, MF
Reilly Clark, senior, Sonoma Valley, D
Armando Coronel, senior, Analy, MF
Andres Flores, junior, Windsor, D
Miguel Galvan, senior, Piner, MF
Kevin McGowan, senior, Cardinal Newman, D
James Moberg, senior, Maria Carrillo, MF
Omar Nuño, senior, Healdsburg, F
Oswaldo Segura, junior, Ukiah, MF
Keenan Whyte, senior, Montgomery, MF
Keller Lawson, senior, Cardinal Newman, GK

SECOND TEAM
Diego Benitez, senior, Sonoma Valley, MF
Salvador Cortez, senior, Elsie Allen, GK
Jose Gutierrez, senior, Montgomery, MF
Andres Miranda, senior, Windsor, MF
Tanner Pierce, senior, Montgomery, D
Patrick Rabbitt, senior, Petaluma, GK
Agustin Reyes, junior, Analy, MF
David Sheppard, junior, Maria Carrillo, D
Michael Tagaffola, junior, Rancho Cotate, MF
Clark Walker, senior, Ukiah, F
Ryan Willis, senior, Analy, D

COACH OF THE YEAR
Jon Schwan, Montgomery