Lopez struggling to find niche in Colorado

World Cup vet battling for lineup spot with Smith, Thompson

Claudio Lopez has been one of the brighter players in training this week for the Colorado Rapids. The trouble is finding the World Cup veteran a spot in the line-up.

Rapids coach Gary Smith pointed out the Argentinian playmaker as one of the better performing members of his squad during an intense internal scrimmage Tuesday. The Rapids last played competitively in a 2-2 draw against Chicago June 9, and return to action Saturday in Houston.

But, all brightness aside, where would Lopez actually fit in? The 35 year-old veteran of two World Cups has come off the bench only twice in league play this season, netting a paltry 32 minutes of game time. He did play a more significant role in the team’s U.S. Open Cup play, looking one of the better and more creative Rapids’ players in the 3-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls.

Smith has seemed to prefer the more fast-paced and wider attacking threats of the likes of Jamie Smith and Wells Thompson to come off the bench in recent games and provide the spark. It’s worked particularly well with Smith, who has provided two game-winning assists in the last two games. The Scottish winger may even get the start on Saturday.

“Claudio’s more productive through the middle where he can provide defense-splitting passes and operate as a free player,” Smith told mlssoccer.com. “We’re not really looking to keep him in the wide areas. The 4-4-2 shape we had against Chicago did not really lend itself to getting him into really aggressive areas.”

A lot depends on the formation Smith employs, as well as the standing of any given game. Clearly, Lopez would be used when there is a need for extra creativity, and for chasing a game. But, in such a situation against Chicago, with the team down a goal right to the last minute, the choice was to play Smith and Thompson on the flanks.

“There is more competition,” Smith said. “We have good players on the bench and my job is to choose the right one for the right moment.”