Alejandro Lopez, a Watsonville resident and Santa Cruz Breakers Academy alumnus, died late Monday night at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, according to the Contra Costa County Coroner’s Office.
Lopez, 19, was hospitalized on April 26 after losing consciousness while cliff diving with friends near Steamer Lane, a well-known surf spot in Santa Cruz, according to witnesses. He regained consciousness over the next few days following surgery but died of an infection weeks later, according to close family friends.
Despite his small stature, Lopez was one of the top young soccer talents to come from Watsonville and the greater Santa Cruz County. He started playing for the Santa Cruz Breakers Academy at 9 and was a star from the start, earning invitations to train with the U.S. Boy’s U14 and U17 National teams as well as several international clubs, including AS Roma. Lopez went on to play at the Academy level for both Real Salt Lake and the San Jose Earthquakes.
Lopez attended Pajaro Valley High School until his sophomore year. He finished out high school while playing for the Real Salt Lake Academy, according to Santa Cruz Breakers Academy Technical Director Paolo Carbone.
“Obviously he was one of the most outstanding players that we’ve had in our club,” Carbone said in a phone interview on Thursday. “He was an excellent player but he was an even better kid. A better person. He always had a smile on his face. He was liked by everybody.”
Carbone, who has been close to the Lopez family since Alejandro began playing for the Academy, started a GoFundMe account a day after Lopez had been hospitalized to help the family with medical bills. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 180 people had raised close to $13,000.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Carbone said. “He was a great kid who left a great impression on the soccer community.”
And that community was reeling after word broke of Lopez’s passing on Monday night.
“It is with great sadness that we have learned of Alejandro’s passing last night,” the San Jose Earthquakes Academy wrote on Twitter. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Lopez Family.”
The U.S. Soccer Development Academy tweeted out: “Our thoughts and condolences are with the [San Jose Earthquakes Academy], [Santa Cruz Breakers] and the Lopez Family.”
Among his friends, Lopez was known as the little brother they always wanted. Because of their hectic work schedules, Lopez's mother, Juana, and father, Gabriel, had trouble finding time to drive him to practice, games and tournaments while he played for the Breakers. So he hitched rides with several of his teammates and their parents over the years.
Still, longtime friend and teammate, Samier Naranjo, said Lopez would always put his family first. When his mom couldn't work because of an injury to her foot, Naranjo said, Lopez started working to help out his family.
"He loved his family and especially his mom," Naranjo said in a phone interview on Thursday. "They were his everything."
Naranjo called Lopez his brother and described him as adventurous and exuberant with a magnetic personality. He didn't let a day go by without going on an adventure.
"He always wanted to be up doing something," Naranjo said. "Even at night. If there was nothing going on he'd say, 'oh, let's go to In-N-Out or let's go get doughnuts in San Jose. He always wanted to be doing something."
He was also an incredible soccer player that was not only skilled but passionate about the game. Naranjo said he still remembers the stupendous feats of athleticism Lopez was able to pull off on the pitch.
“He was incredible. He loved playing the game," Naranjo said. “I remember the first time I met him at my first practice. We were doing sprints and he was beating everyone. I just looked over at him and said, ‘damn, you’re fast!’ There’s a lot of things you could say about him. A lot of great things.”
Gonzalo Samudio played only one year on the Breakers with Lopez but said he was still blown away by what he could do with the ball.
"He's probably one of the greatest soccer players I've ever seen in this area,” said Samudio, whose younger brother Vincent played five years with Lopez on the Breakers. "He was a guy that would push everyone to be better. He held you accountable.”
But Samudio said people that knew Lopez would remember him for more than just soccer.
“He was an incredible guy,” Samudio said. “Always smiling, always being himself. That’s what I’m going to remember.”