Claudio Lopez has been to the World Cup with Argentina and played for some of the most renowned clubs in the world in Valencia, Lazio and Club América.
With his lack of minutes for the Colorado Rapids this season, players of his stature could easily become an unpleasant locker-room presence. But nobody with the Rapids would say that about the 36-year-old veteran.
So when López was given an opportunity to contribute to Colorado’s Eastern Conference semifinal victory against the Columbus Crew, the moment was all the sweeter. He came on for defender Kosuke Kimura in the 82nd minute, allowing him to be on the field when Conor Casey leveled the series at two goals apiece with just six minutes remaining in the match. The Argentine played all 30 minutes of extra time, and then finished off his performance with a left-footed penalty shootout blast past Crew ‘keeper Andy Gruenebaum.
And even though López has seen it all as a professional, his excitement at Casey’s goal and converting the penalty was plain for all to see.
Everybody involved with the Rapids’ organization will tell you how the striker is all about the team, despite his lack of minutes. Saturday’s vital playoff game was the most action the midfielder has seen since joining the Rapids from the Kansas City Wizards this year.
“It’s exciting to be in this position,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s good to see the coach trust me to go in at that time of the game.”
Removing Kimura put the Rapids in a 3-5-2 formation for the first time this season. It was a desperate, last-ditch attempt to get bodies forward, but it worked as the Rapids advance to the Eastern Conference Championship against the San Jose Earthquakes (Saturday, 9:30 pm ET, FSC).
“Every week, we work in training for playing at the weekend,” López said. “I think everyone is important in this team. Everyone’s working for the team.”
And what if he comes on this weekend and notches the winning goal to send the Rapids to MLS Cup? After working so hard this season, the celebrations would be quite something.