Rodrigo Lopez had two goals and an assist in the first half of Republic FC’s 4-3 win over the Colorado Rapids Reserves on Friday in the expansion team’s debut at Bonney Field, earning USL Pro Player of the Week honors, but the veteran midfielder said his performance could have been stronger.
Lopez said he needed to play better defensively as the speedy and talented Rapids Reserves turned a 3-1 halftime deficit into a 3-3 tie early in the second half. Mike Fucito’s goal in the 84th minute, after a string of passes started by Lopez, produced the win for Republic FC.
“Offensively, in the first half, we were pretty solid,” Lopez said. “At the same time, we’ve got to be smart on the defensive side and not leave so many gaps. They were playing four at the top, and they would counter every time we lost the ball.”
Lopez, who leads the team in points with five goals and seven assists entering tonight’s USL Pro match against Arizona United SC at Bonney Field, said he got a blunt assessment of his performance from Preki, Republic FC’s coach.
“He told me I had a good offensive game, but defensively I have to work harder,” Lopez said. “I couldn’t disagree. My work rate should never go away.”
Lopez won’t blame a hairline fracture to the middle toe of his left foot that started bothering him three weeks ago. Twice early in the match Lopez went down in pain.
“Every time I plant hard on it, the toe locks up on me,” Lopez said. “After I ran it off, it got better. But it’s tough. I keep playing and practicing on it, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better.”
Lopez used his right foot to score two impressive goals.
The first came in the 39th minute after Rapids Reserves goalkeeper Joe Nasco blocked Justin Braun’s one vs. one run into the box. Lopez corralled the rebound, faked a shot, dribbled to his right along the top of the box and unleashed a blast that deflected off defender Gale Agbossoumonde into the goal.
The second came three minutes later when Lopez took Nemanja Vukovic’s pass on a give-and-go and, from the top of the right box, curled a shot over Nasco that dipped into the upper right corner of the net.
“As an offensive player, you have to be able to hit a ball and be able to score with different parts of the foot,” Lopez said. “At times you have to place it with your foot, and at other times you have to hit it with the laces to make sure it’s a hard shot. This was a little in between. I hit it with my instep and put a little curve on it.”
Nine of Colorado’s players who competed Friday have started at least one match for the parent Major League Soccer, including defenders Chris Klute and Thomas Piermayr, who had 16 starts between them with the top club.
After rejoining the team Friday and scoring the winning goal against Colorado, Fucito was recalled by the Earthquakes and started and played 83 minutes in Tuesday’s 4-1 penalty-kick loss to the Seattle Sounders in the U.S. Open Cup.
Midfielder George Fochive also was recalled by the Portland Timbers for their 3-1 U.S. Open Cup win Tuesday over Sporting Kansas City, but he did not see action. He remains on loan to Republic FC.
Republic FC lost 2-1 on April 19 in Phoenix when it played half the match a man down after defender Mickey Daly was given a red card.
Republic FC needed Chad Bartlome’s header from Lopez’s corner kick in stoppage time to tie Arizona United 1-1 on June 7 in the last match played at Hughes Stadium.
Defensive-minded Arizona comes into tonight’s match after three consecutive home matches, including a 1-0 victory over the fourth-place Rochester Rhinos and a 1-1 tie with third-place Los Angeles Galaxy II.
Republic FC (7-4-2) is in fifth place, though it’s played two to three fewer matches than first-place Orlando City, second-place Richmond Kickers, the Galaxy II and Rochester. Arizona United (4-6-3) is tied for ninth with OKC Energy FC.