Cuba’s Bennett praises two-goal Lopez

Cuba's Frank Lopez (red jersey) is one of the Caribbean's rising young football stars. (Photo: Mexsport)

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica – Frank Lopez struck for both goals in a 2-1 victory over Canada on Monday in the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship to keep Cuba’s hopes of reaching a second straight FIFA U-20 World Cup alive. 

The talented forward netted twice in the first half, hitting the back of the net from 35-yards out off a kicking error by Canada goalkeeper Nolan Wirth and then finding the inside of the right post with an marvelously accurate header.

His performance not only earned the praise of head coach Willian Bennett, it also returned one of the Caribbean young standouts to a familiar place…the scoresheet.

“It is always the same deal with him,” said Bennett after the match.  “He’s an aggressive player.  He is a good player, very skilled.”

Much was expected of the 19-year-old forward in this competition.  He scored a team-high seven goals in helping Cuba to a third-place finish in the 2014 Caribbean Under-20 Championship, the region’s qualifying tournament.  All those goals did not come bunched in a game or two against weaker opposition.  Actually, each one counted for something as Lopez netted in five of Cuba’s seven outings on the road to Jamaica.

After he went goalless in the first three games at the CONCACAF event, though, Bennett decided it was time for a talk.

“In the first few games, he was unlucky, really unlucky,” remarked the veteran manager, 64.  “He’s had six or seven chances to score.  Against Mexico, he had three.  Against Honduras, three.  Against Haiti, three more. 

“So we sat down with him and found out he had a psychological block.  He was having a difficult time.  We talked it through with him.” 

That conversation proved to be exceedingly helpful, the results of which bore fruit when Cuba needed its star the most.

“He also has the characteristic against the more difficult teams in the bigger games, he really steps up and plays well,” finished Bennett.  “We saw some of that today.” 

And Cuba is hoping to see more of the same in Thursday’s group finale against El Salvador.