The Ventura County Fusion's aspirations on and off the field don't always march in lockstep.
The latest example came Thursday, when the Orlando City Soccer Club announced it had signed the Fusion's midfield maestro, Rodrigo Lopez, to a professional contract.
Lopez left immediately to join the Lions for its next match in the United Soccer League's Professional Division, which came Friday against the Los Angeles Blues at Cal State Fullerton.
"It's a good opportunity for him and we're delighted for him," Fusion general manager Ranbir Shergill said. "It makes it tougher going into the playoffs, losing a quality player like Roro... but things should be OK."
Lopez, the former Santa Barbara High, Chivas USA and Portland Timbers midfielder, earned postseason MVP honors by guiding the Fusion to the 2009 Premier Development League continental title.
He returned for his third tenure with the club this season, picking up a goal and three assists in 11 matches playing a deep-lying playmaking role for the Southwest Division-leading Fusion (10-2-2).
The Fusion expected to lose Lopez at some point this season. Team president Graham Smith memorably proclaimed the midfielder belonged in Major League Soccer ahead of the Fusion's U.S. Open Cup match with Chivas USA. But it doesn't soften the blow of losing the team's fulcrum.
"We're very happy to see him move on and we expect him to be successful wherever he goes," said Fusion coach Ole Mikkelsen. "Hopefully, this is the move that ultimately lands him in the MLS, which is where we think he belongs.
"We've been extremely fortunate to have him up until now. While we promote a squad approach and we expect to lose players throughout the season, obviously losing someone of Roro's caliber is more difficult to take."
The Fusion, who also lost Calabasas High graduate Daniel Steres to the Seattle Sounders last month, don't expect many more defections. Although Danny Barrera, the Fusion's all-time leading goalscorer and playmaker, is expected to join his Cal FC coach, Eric Wynalda, with the Atlanta Silverbacks.
"I won't think there will be too much more movements," Shergill said. "Danny might be the only one."
Wynalda, Westlake High product like Barrera, took over as interim coach of the NASL club last week and is expected to bring in several of the stars of Cal FC's run to the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup.
Barrera did not immediately return a phone message. Wynalda said at least two of his Cal FC players would join him in Atlanta, but that figure could rise to "possibly" seven.