When the Rapids picked up former World Cup regular and former DP Claudio Lopez after Kansas City dropped him this season, the buzz about him from the Rapids fanbase was fairly sizable. Here we now had a wonderful craftsman of creativity who was brilliant at passing and still had some of his famous scoring touch as evidenced by his 13 goals for KC in his two years there. He was unlike most players we had seen in a Rapids uniform playing on the wing in some time.
As the season rolled along, the Rapids fanbase started to take notice of a lack of our new winger. Strangely, Claudio never seemed to appear for the squad, getting only nine appearances over the course of the season, every single one of them in spot relief and several of them for no longer than five or ten minutes at a time. We speculated that it was his age keeping him out of Gary Smith's line-up, despite his age of 36 being younger than many every-game starters such as Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Frankie Hedjuk. While his presence did seem to make a difference in games such as the Kansas City Wizards draw at home and the Toronto FC loss on the road, still he never started and still he rarely played more than a handful of minutes.
We complained about the lack of prescience of our talented old Argentinian, we made a drinking game out of his name being mentioned, occasionally some of us even wrote unfunny satire about it. The team slumped for the majority of the season on the offensive side of the ball, with our star duo up top of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings unable to score in Gary Smith's 4-5-1 formation, and still Claudio remained a bench staple. We all know that eventually the ship righted itself - albeit with Lopez still on the bench - and the playoffs started, and suddenly in the second leg against the Columbus Crew we might have started to see some dividends from our favorite bench player.
Late in the game with Colorado losing 2-0 against a tough Crew team, Gary Smith threw caution to the wind and inserted Claudio along with Mac Kandji as he switched to a 2-5-3 formation. Claudio Lopez looked like he hadn't looked all season long, providing clinical passes and even a couple of chances on goal for himself, along with playing a bit of defense. He literally looked like he was on every part of the relatively small Columbus Crew pitch at the same time and eventually the Rapids powerful attack after the subs paid off with a Conor Casey goal. Lopez scored the most beautiful of the Rapids penalty kicks as well, with a bullet perfectly placed into the top left corner.
I'm not sure if Gary Smith's incessant chanting of "He has a role to play" all season long in regards to Lopez were meant as a sign that he will be our playoff charm, but if he did mean it, well it's certainly worked so far.