CARSON, CA - OCTOBER 22: Lopes: Adjusting to new surroundings in 2011 (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
The second of the three midseason acquisitions for Chivas USA is featured in today's season review. David Junior Lopes, a Brazilian center back, signed with Chivas in August. He came from a team in Romania, FC Universitatea Craiova that was banned from playing in the top division in a legal dispute, and in an article by Adam Serrano from last month on the league website, he admitted he returned to Brazil and was unsure if he would get another chance to play. Lopes has been a real journeyman prior to coming to Chivas, as he's played in Brazil, Croatia, Spain, and Russia in addition to Romania. Because he's bounced around, his signing represented something of a risk, but if it paid off, then Chivas would surely get good value for the skill.
Lopes played in eight matches after his arrival, starting seven (580 minutes). He didn't get involved in the scoring in his time with Chivas, but as a central defender, that wasn't his primary role. He did draw two yellow cards and a red card in his 2011 season, and a shaky start was largely overcome by season's end. In his first action, Lopes entered as a substitute August 13 against the Seattle Sounders on the road. Chivas hung on for a valuable 0-0 draw, but Lopes almost gifted the Sounders a winner when he brought down Lamar Neagle in the penalty box. I think the foul wasn't totally clear, but I doubt many Chivas fans would have been up in arms if a penalty had been awarded. In spite of that, no penalty was awarded and no card was shown, so Lopes had luck on his side after being thrown in the deep end at the start of his Chivas career.
Lopes sat out the next two matches, but he started seven of the last eight matches of the season. Because Heath Pearce, Zarek Valentin, and Michael Umana all battled injuries at the end of the season, it was somewhat fortuitous that Lopes had been signed, as he played significant minutes, and seemed to move ahead of Andrew Boyens on the depth chart in a short period of time. In general, he seemed to be getting his sea legs under him, and didn't make many significant mistakes.
The biggest incident Lopes was involved in took place September 10, against DC United. DC thrashed Chivas 3-0 that night, and young star Chris Pontius was injured in a collision with Lopes. Both players approached a ball on an even challenge, and they both recklessly threw their bodies towards the ball. Pontius got the worst of the collision and broke his leg, and Lopes got a red card. While DC fans were upset by the challenge, it looked like a 50-50 play to me on TV, and in the days following the match, Pontius admitted he bore as much responsibility in the injury as Lopes. Since MLS does not reverse red card suspensions for anything except mistaken identity, Lopes had to serve a suspension on a red card he probably didn't deserve. Consider it karmic balance for that uncalled penalty against Seattle.
Above all, the stretch that Lopes played regularly, at the end of the season, was perhaps the worst stretch of the season defensively for Chivas. In the matches he played, they won one match, lost four, and drew three. At this point, I think that was more because of injuries, especially Pearce's, that caused the backline to lose composure on a regular basis. Since Lopes played his way into shape, I think he needs more time before a full assessment can be made about his play in MLS. I think he shows promise, and his height (6'3") and mobility give the Chivas defense something that nobody else provided in 2011. If he settles in, he could potentially become a starting center back for the Goats. And given the team's preoccupation with 'value' (not a bad virtue in itself, but you know what I mean), his base salary in 2011 of $45,000, which is barely above the league minimum, is promising in assuring him a roster spot in 2012. I remain cautiously optimistic about Lopes in 2012, and hope he has an opportunity to really put down roots and establish himself in MLS.
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