With Costa Rican international Douglas Sequeira stranded in Central America due to visa issues, Club Deportivo Chivas USA coach Thomas Rongen handed Sequeira's defensive responsibilities to a now familiar face.
Aaron Lopez started alongside Ryan Suarez in the heart of Chivas USA's defense against D.C. United. And while the hype surrounding the club was great, Lopez focused on soccer and simply carried over his preseason success to the regular season.
"I started the last five games and started with both Sequeira and Suarez," Lopez said after the club's 2-0 loss. "It wasn't a big change. We'll see what next week will bring."
Now, with Sequeira back, it will likely be the Costa Rican starting at center back. No worries. Lopez could remain in the starting lineup in the defensive midfield. Francisco Gomez will be out nearly two months with a sprained knee, which opens up a spot for the Mexican-born rookie out of UCLA.
Lopez has earned praise for his versatility and blue-collar mentality.
"I really do tip my hat to Aaron," Suarez said. "He's played defensive midfield for us. He's played out wide for us. He's played center back for us. He's a tremendous athlete, good with the ball, quick with his feet."
From the first time he started, Lopez drew rave reviews. In a friendly against Atlante of Mexico on March 9, several different circumstances helped Lopez grab a starting spot in the game. Alfonso Loera had not yet recovered from groin surgery. Armando Begines had broken his collarbone a week earlier and Suarez had not yet signed with the club.
After the match, Chivas USA Coach Thomas Rongen said Lopez had "a nice performance" and was "pretty satisfied" with him.
And while Rongen shuffled the lineup around and moved players in and out of the starting 11, Lopez seemingly always had a spot secured. Like fellow SuperDraft pick Brad Guzan, Lopez has developed rapidly. But there's always room for improvement.
"It's obviously a learning curve and he's brand new to the league," Suarez said. "Aaron will start to learn his way slowly but surely. You learn from your mistakes like we all do. I thought he did really well and came out strong."
Lopez had a standout career at UCLA. In 2002, he scored the game-winning goal in UCLA's championship win over Stanford. Over the past three seasons, Lopez was a fixture in the Bruins' lineup, starting 62 of 64 matches. Chivas USA took him in the third round of the 2005 SuperDraft.
Lopez was just one of four defenders from January's SuperDraft to start in their respective team's openers and two of the four (Colorado's Hunter Freeman and New England's Michael Parkhurst) were top 10 picks.
For the foreseeable future, Lopez appears to be a big part of Chivas USA's plans. Whether it's at center back, out wide or at defensive midfield, Lopez will continue to draw on what has made him successful.
"It's just my attitude," he said. "A lot of people have noticed my hard work here."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.