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Argentine World Cup striker ups ante in KC
by Ridge Mahoney, March 11th, 2008 6:45AM
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[MLS] When Kansas City hired Curt Onalfo as head coach a year and a half ago, he promised to implement at least two elements not always present in past Wizards' teams: a commitment to attack and score goals, and Latin flair. Kansas City scored 45 goals last year, fifth-best in MLS, and unveiled Argentine playmaker Carlos Marinelli and Colombian winger Eloy Colombano. Long before the move of Eddie Johnson to English Premier League club Fulham became official in January, Onalfo and technical director Peter Vermes had begun work on landing replacements. They officially announced the signing of Colombian striker Ivan Trujillo last week but for months had been chasing a much bigger prize.

In luring former Argentine international Claudio Lopez, they delivered as promised, and so has club management. The team's operator-investor, OnGoal LLC, which bought the team in the summer of 2006 from Hunt Sports Group, assured Onalfo it would supply the resources - i.e., money - to land a Designated Player if the right opportunity came along.

No figures have been obtained. A source said Lopez had been shopped at between $1 million and $1.2 million, depending on the number of guaranteed years. He will count $415,000 against the Wizards' salary cap, which is believed to be about $2.2 million this season.

"Basically, in one week our team has changed tremendously, with obviously Claudio arriving and the same thing with Ivan Trujillio," says Onalfo. "We want to have competition in that spot and it's going to make us a team that is deep and is able to win games consistently. That's what you have to have.

"What Claudio brings is not only is he a proven goalscorer, but with the experience and savvy he brings, he's going to create opportunities for his teammates as well."

Like more than a few of the international stars who have come to MLS, Lopez is on the wrong side of 30 - he turns 34 in July - and has been nagged by injuries in the past. Yet in six of his professional seasons he's scored in double-digits during a career that has taken him from his native Argentina, where he played for Estudiantes and Racing Club, to Spain (Valencia), Italy (Lazio) and Mexico (Club America).

"He's an exceptional athlete and has kept himself extremely fit," says Onalfo. "He's extremely fast and a guy that will be able to get in behind defenses, but on top of that he's got 16 years' professional experience, having played in two World Cups [1998 and 2002] and some of the best games in the world. His age is absolutely not a concern; hopefully he can play for us for many years."

His drawing power at home matches won't be an issue this season or next, since Kansas City is playing in the CommunityAmerica Ballpark, a minor-league baseball facility which seats about 10,000, while its new stadium at Bannister Mall is built. Where he will help is up front and with the Hispanic audience.

"It shows that since we've moved into a temporary stadium for the next two years, how much of a commitment that OnGoal has made to the Kansas City Wizards," says Vermes. "The six owners feel that it's extremely important for us to have success on and off the field. Obviously Claudio is a great player on the field and we're also hoping the marketing aspects of it will help us as well.

"But you also have to put it the context if we were at Arrowhead, we could sell a lot more tickets. And whether they have 10,000 or 50,000 seats available, they're going to put the best team they can on the field. Committing to this player, to getting a Designated Player, before we move into a new stadium, I think speaks volumes.

"He's going to be extremely famous in our league and we're, for sure, knowing that when we travel, we're going to have to do some different things."



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