If you thought OL Reign was done signing players after announcing Alana Cook was joining the squad, you’d be wrong. The club announced today that their 2021 NWSL Draft pick, Jimena Lopez, will be joining the team on a three-year deal, with a team option for 2024.
Lopez, a projected first- or second-round pick in the draft, fell to the Reign at pick #28 after news began to circulate that she’d already signed a contract with a team in Europe. That turned out to be true — as Lopez joined SD Eibar in Spain — but OL Reign still felt like the Texas A&M graduate was worth the investment, and at the end of the Primera División season they were able to work out a deal for a permanent transfer of the Mexican international.
“We thought she’d go in the first round,” Predmore said after the draft while acknowledging that her apparent interest in Europe may have scared some teams off, but that didn’t bother the Reign. “We don’t need her to play tomorrow and we will work with her and her agent to determine the best thing for her,” Predmore added back in January.
While the team didn’t need Lopez immediately, she’s certainly going to add some great depth in the outside back position. Since joining Eibar in late January, Lopez started every match at left back. She featured in 16 matches, scored a goal, and helped keep the Spanish club — which was just promoted to the top league in Spain this season — away from the relegation line.
“Jimena is a tremendous player who will make an impact with our club this season,” said OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti. “Her decision to sign and play in Spain shows her ambition and her desire to be the best she can be. She gained valuable experience playing many matches with Eibar, which will help her make a positive transition to the NWSL.”
Lopez, 22, is a versatile player who earned a number of accolades and awards at Texas A&M, which was also home to OL Reign forward Ally Watt and goalkeeper Cosette Morché. She featured for Texas A&M at multiple positions, including left wing and left back, and was named the 2019 SEC Midfielder of the Year — when she earned 15 assists — and the 2020 Co-Defender of the Year after a move to the backline.
The awards don’t stop there. Lopez was named to the All-America First Team by the United Soccer Coaches and to the MAC Hermann watch list this year. She also was a two-time All-SEC First Team selection, amassed 17 goals and 23 assists, was captain during her junior and senior years, and earned a reputation as a set-piece specialist throughout her college career. Check out some of her best work in this draft-day video.
On the international stage, Lopez featured in a number of youth competitions, including the 2018 U-20 Women’s World Cup, where she scored this goal against Canada. She made her senior debut for Mexico in February 2019 and recently featured in Mexico’s 2020 Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifiers. That includes starting as left back in Mexico’s semifinal match against the United States.
Lopez, who will utilize the team’s final open international spot, gives Benstiti intriguing options on the backline. After Lauren Barnes moved to a less natural left back position, Benstiti hasn’t been using her to make runs up the flank and whip in crosses. Lopez is more inclined to push into the attack and earned a reputation at Texas A&M for her pinpoint crosses. Her move to OL Reign could allow Barnes to move back to centerback. Now, Lopez may not start immediately, but she earned some valuable professional playing time in Spain that should set her up well for the Reign in the years to come.
The Reign now have 30 players on the roster, not including their players on loan and Ally Watt, who is still recovering from an ACL tear. With a number of OL Reign players away for the Olympics — assuming they still move forward — the team should be roster compliant and will have plenty of depth to get them through the Olympic timeframe.