Manuel “Lito” Lopez, a 16-year-old sophomore at Rio Rico High School, was recently selected as a goalkeeper for Arizona’s 05 ODP Team, part of the Olympic development program and a top honor for youth soccer players in the state.
Athletes from around the state who were born in 2005 have been trying out for the team since September, and Lito recently received word that he had made the final cut, according to his mother, Laura Lopez.
He and his teammates are set to begin competing Jan. 7-10 in Mesa against state teams from Idaho, Nevada and Utah.
Lito Lopez is on the autism spectrum, and his mother said he has overcome many obstacles to get where he is today.
She said he’s always been an “A” student, and in addition to his soccer exploits, he gives back to the community as a member of the Anza Trail Ambassadors Club.
“It’s just amazing for a child they told us would never ever do anything because of his autism,” his mother said. “And he is reaching for the stars.”
Lito started playing organized soccer with the Nogales AYSO when he was 10, and also played for the Southwest club team in Rio Rico. He went on to play club soccer in Tucson with a team called Aztecs, and then with the top team in the state, the Tucson-based Manchester City club.
“He may not speak to his teammates, but he goes out there and shows them what he’s got,” Laura Lopez said.
Lito currently plays for RSL Tucson, a club team, as well as for the varsity and junior varsity squads at Rio Rico High School.
“He always wants to progress and he keeps trying out for the best team,” his mother said. “He was able to make the top team in the state, and now he actually made the team to represent the state to go to regionals and nationals.”
Asked how her son was feeling after making the state team, she said:
“He’s on top of the world, but he doesn’t show emotion. So he’s just like, ‘I did it. That’s cool. I’m going to give it my all.’”
Down the road, Lito would like to play professional soccer “or be a coach to other children with disabilities, so they can succeed also,” Laura Lopez said. “And if he doesn’t make it, he wants to be a professor in history.”