Jimena Lopez has started her first full season for NWSL side OL Reign. The 23-year-old defender has featured for the Reign as they sit on top of Group B in the Challenge Cup.
Originally drafted by the Seattle side, her first professional stint came in Spain. Lopez then came over to the NWSL from Primera Iberdrola side Eibar Femenino in 2021.
We had the good fortune to sit down with her to discuss her life on and off the pitch, and discovered her predilection for a sport that many may be unaware of.
For Lopez, an early start to football did not mean love at first sight.
“I started playing when I was like three or four. Just because I went to a school where they made us play soccer during recess,” she told Her Football Hub. “So, I didn’t like soccer because they took away my recess.”
However, finding the back of the net quickly changed the for the future Mexican star.
“One day, I started scoring goals, and I just loved it ever since.”
That much is obvious. Since her early start, she has played for the Mexican national team at the U15, U17, and senior level. Her play at a tournament in Los Angeles drew the attention of scouts from Texas A&M University. There was no hesitation from Lopez in joining the Aggies.
“As soon as I saw the facilities they had at A&M, all the good stuff,” she related with a big smile. “It was just a really good opportunity for me to play soccer and keep studying. If I had stayed in Mexico, I couldn’t have done both.”
Just as her professional career is ascending, so too is her play with the national team. She recently netted her second career goal with the national team. Mexico defeated Anguilla 11-0 in CONCACAF championship qualification. La Tri is dominating Group A in the qualifiers. They have posted a 4-0-0 record, scoring 34 goals and conceding none.
Paddle? No, Padel!
For the Reign defender, her athletic skills are not limited to the football pitch. She revealed to us that she enjoys trying her hand at another sport: Padel.
“I really like to play a sport called padel. It’s sort of like tennis, but it has walls around it. It is really big in Latin America, Argentina, Mexico, Spain. It’s a really fun sport.
“You count the points the same as tennis — 15, 30, 40, game. You serve underhand and usually it’s better to play in doubles. The racquets are smaller than tennis racquets but no cord. It’s hard and has holes.”
Padel is a doubles sport that can be played recreationally as singles.
“My brother plays at a higher level,” Lopez explained. “He says that the player on the left is more of a power player, like smashes the ball better. The one that plays on the right is more technical. Basically, it’s one bounce, but you can use the walls.”
Padel originated in Turkey in the early 1900s. It has since gained worldwide popularity, and is played across the globe. The sport is governed by the Federacion Internacional de Padel (FIP), based in Madrid, Spain.
A family affair
“In Mexico where I grew up, it’s a common sport. My dad and my brother really enjoy it, so they started practicing and I would just go and watch. And then I started getting into it myself a little more.
“They’ve actually become really good at it. I’m not that great, because I don’t have very good technique. My athleticism makes up for it a little bit. Compared to a football match, I don’t think it’s that physically taxing. But again, I’m not a high level player, I don’t have the right technique. Maybe if I do it right, it could be more physically taxing.”
When asked who on the Reign team she could imagine doing well on the padel court, Lopez picked out last season’s top scorer.
“I think Bethany Balcer would be really good. I’ve gone out to play tennis with her a couple times and she’s good .”
The Pacific is quite cold
Unfortunately, there are no padel courts locally. So, Lopez is looking for new things to tackle in her time away from the pitch. Playing in Seattle, Reign players have easy access to the chilly waters of the northern Pacific Ocean. Lopez told us of a hobby that she is interested in trying.
“Phallon (Tullis-Joyce), our goalkeeper, she is a scuba diver. She’s studying marine biology and now she volunteers at an aquarium nearby where we live. She goes out scuba diving sometimes on her days off, so I think that is something I would like to learn.”