Pachuca defender Leobardo Lopez enjoyed a steady climb to the Mexican national team. After strong showings with Pachuca, Lopez finally got his first call to El Tri in 2008 and became a regular under manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Now, Lopez will have to start from below zero. Lopez injured his knee during Mexico's 3-1 loss to Honduras on April 1. He will be out at least six months and will be a blow to both Mexico and Pachuca.

Lopez had successful surgery on his right knee this week and can begin looking forward to his long road back.

"I'm a bit more calm about it," Lopez said after his procedure. "The operation went well and now I have to begin my rehabilitation. I hope the time passes by quickly."

Six months from early April, Mexico will have either qualified for the 2010 World Cup or El Tri will be on the brink of monumental collapse and failure. Whether or not Lopez is healthy enough to be considered for selection for both El Tri and Pachuca depends on him and his rehabilitation process.

"The most important thing is to recover well. That's the only thing I'm thinking about," Lopez said. "It would do me no good to speed up the recovery and rush a return only to re-injure myself because that would be worse. I need to be patient and the day will come when I am 100 percent again."

Lopez, 25, had been on a fast track to international success. Already, he has enjoyed club titles with Pachuca and his personal achievements increased with each passing national-team appearance. If Mexico qualifies for the World Cup, Lopez might face a more difficult time stating his case to new manager Javier Aguirre given that he would have missed out on at least five and possibly the remaining seven qualifiers in addition to the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Still, Lopez said he will try and keep from sinking into the throes of depression.

"It's been difficult to comprehend this especially with everything that was working out for me," Lopez said. "But I can't feel sorry for myself. I need to give everything I have in order for my rehabilitation to be successful and I need to think positively."

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.