Acquired with a view of pushing a team into the elite of MLS, foreign players are usually looked at to provide a large part of a team's playoff push during the latter part of the season.
The Kansas City Wizards, currently precariously sitting one point out of playoff contention, need a push. Yet with a third of the season still to be played, the Wizards are still trying to find the right foundation from which to receive the necessary jolt from their foreign contingent -- Colombian Ivan Trujillo and Argentineans Claudio Lopez and Carlos Marinelli.
Acquired from La Equidad of Columbia's first division in March, the 26-year-old Trujillo was touted as a "target, strong-type forward" who would supply scoring punch. After one goal in 13 games, Trujillo sits behind recently acquired Josh Wolff, Davy Arnaud and Ryan Pore on the forward depth chart.
"Like any player who has never played outside of his country, it's taken him a little time to adapt," said head coach Curt Onalfo. "He's a guy who has scored a lot of goals for us (five) on the reserve team and in the Open Cup, so he's progressing and a guy we look to as depth off the bench in the forward position."
Taking advantage of any time that comes his way will put pressure on the rest and provide a large lift for a team that has put away only 17 chances in 18 matches.
"With Ivan, there were never any extremely high expectations," Onalfo said. "Would we like more goals out of him? Sure. Right now, our two forwards are Davy and Josh."
The impact of the signing of world-class Argentinean international Claudio Lopez as Kansas City's designated player is debated in fan blogs and in the media. And when looking at statistics -- three goals and three assists in 18 games -- the debate is fueled. But statistics certainly don't tell the whole story. The 34-year-old has played all but 20 minutes of the entire season and has earned plaudits for his work rate and his "one of the guys" locker room demeanor. In addition, Lopez's wealth of experience has earned immediate and lasting respect.
"[Claudio] doesn't open his mouth very often, but when he does, people listen," said Wizards captain Jimmy Conrad. "Whether it's on the field or off, when he's got something to say, it's usually spot on, and the guys respond."
Results are what speak volumes ultimately, and "The Louse" has shown flashes of brilliance along with his wonderful touch and accurate crosses. But he has yet, in the minds of some, to reach the level of "difference maker."
"Right now, it's just a matter of finding what's good for him, whether it's up front or out on the left, and where he can be the most effective for us," said MLS veteran Kerry Zavagnin. "He's a good professional and a great soccer player."
Conrad believes that Lopez has suffered by having to bear the weight of offensive responsibility while Arnaud has played himself back into form after offseason knee surgery and the other attackers have struggled. Help has arrived in the form of MLS and U.S. national team veteran Wolff.
"When you add a player of Wolff's caliber, now he's going to demand a lot of attention, and now you are going to see what Claudio doing what he does best," said Conrad. "When Wolff wasn't here, Claudio was getting singled out, and it just made it harder for him to create space."
Lopez will return to left midfield in the Wizards scheme, where he should find more space to operate. Furthermore, the veteran of seven World Cup matches feels his connection with his teammates is growing.
"It's going well. After some time, we just need to see some results. We have a great group of guys, a great cast around us." Lopez said via an interpreter. "It basically comes down to focusing on plays and being able to finish better than we have been. Once those come around, we'll get the results that we want. We're getting to the point where we are going to see those results on a regular basis."
To Conrad and Zavagnin, the verdict is clear.
"To make a long answer short: he deserves a designated player spot," Conrad said.
That leaves the conundrum that is Marinelli. Capable of the sublime, Marinelli's career -- dotted with time at five different clubs in his nine-year professional career, including stints at such renowned clubs as Boca Juniors in Argentina, Middlesbrough in the English Premiership, and Torino in Italy -- has been maligned by injury and failure to live up to the promise of his considerable talents.
With no appearances since June 28 due to an injured hamstring, Marinelli has struggled to regain the preseason form that saw him tally three assists in early regular season matches.
"The challenge now for Carlos it to get himself fit again and be a guy who can contribute off the bench because it's too late in the season to believe he'll be a starter for us," said Onalfo. "... If you watch him, when he comes in off the bench when the game slows down, he does a great job. If we can get him fit and in that capacity at some point, that's great. The hard thing now is that we have so many other guys that have climbed up the ladder."
Onalfo said there are no problems with Marinelli's work rate and he is "good guy" in the locker room, said Zavagnin. But more is wanted.
"Carlos's talent is second-to-none. In terms of where he can be of most value to us, we're still trying to figure that out. But it's a matter of performing on the field, and when you're not doing that, you're not fulfilling your task within a team. We're hoping and we're waiting" said Zavagnin."
Will the Wizards' foreign additions help push them into the playoffs? The answer won't be clear until late October, but the pressure is on Trujillo, Lopez and Marinelli to provide a push by themselves and in conjunction with their teammates.
"Pressure is one of those things [the team has] to put upon [themselves]," said Lopez. "We have to want to work and play hard to want to do these things to get [the team] ahead, to win."
Bob Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.