Orlando City signed Colombian midfielder Carlos Rivas to a Young Designated Player contract from Deportivo Cali on Jan. 26, 2015, bringing to fruition a great deal of scouting in that country and landing a gifted young speedster for the MLS side. At just 5-foot-8, 150 pounds and then 20 years old, Rivas was an investment by the club for the future.
The Lions planned to develop the Colombian starlet and building him as an asset the club could sell down the road.
Due to injuries, Rivas ended up starting the season playing out of position as the club's striker at the top of Head Coach Adrian Heath's 4-2-3-1 formation. Rivas was offside five times on opening day against New York City FC, and also attempted five shots -- none of which were on target, a trend that would last throughout the season for the young Colombian. But one thing he did was force the opposition to pay attention to his speed; he drew four fouls in that opener.
After a couple of games, Rivas picked up a knock and missed a few games, returning as a sub against D.C. United on April 3 in his now-familiar left wing position, subbing in for Eric Avila in the second half. As the season progressed, Rivas learned how to use his greatest attribute by threatening the perimeter defense with his speed and bending picture perfect crossing balls to striker Cyle Larin.
Rivas appeared in 27 MLS games in 2015, starting 13 of those and playing 1,372 minutes. He averaged 51 minutes per appearance in Major League Soccer and finished the season with no goals, four assists and 63 shots, but managed to get only 16 of those efforts on frame. So the Colombian only got one of every four shots on target.
Among Orlando City players, only Cyle Larin (64) attempted more shots than Rivas in 2015. His four assists was tied with Brek Shea and Luke Boden for second on the club, behind only Kaká (7).
Rivas was offside 17 times and picked up six yellow cards on 32 fouls committed. He was also fouled 32 times, as teams pulled and tugged him to slow him down or tripped him up to counter the danger his speed created. He was fourth on the team in fouls suffered, behind Cristian Higuita (82), Kaká (36) and Darwin Ceren (33). His passing accuracy rate of 71.5% was among the lowest of any Orlando City attacking player, besting only Bryan Rochez and Pedro Ribeiro.
Rivas did manage to bend in a perfect free kick in a friendly against West Bromwich Albion, scored on a laser blast against Columbus Crew SC in the U.S. Open Cup, and came close to scoring on a few other free kicks down the stretch, but he never found that elusive first MLS goal in 2015.
There were several good choices here, including his coming-out party on June 24 against the Colorado Rapids. Rivas played 50 minutes that night in relief of an injured Brek Shea, terrorizing the Rapids' back line with his pace. He set up one goal and his movement created the space necessary for Higuita and Kaká to combine for the other in a 2-0 win.
But I'm going to select his two-assist, three-shot effort at New York Red Bulls on Sept. 25. Rivas -- again playing in a reserve role, replacing the injured Seb Hines -- destroyed the right side of New York's defense and assisted on two Larin goals in a 5-2 drubbing of the eventual Supporters' Shield winners. In addition to the two assists, another dangerous cross by Rivas resulted in a Damien Perrinelle own-goal. Perrinelle's involvement only served to prevent a three-assist night for Rivas and a four-goal evening for Larin.
If not for Larin's hat trick, Rivas would have been our Man of the Match pick. He may have had a better night than those times we did select him as MotM, such as in the aforementioned Colorado match or the third meeting against New York City FC.
Don't blink at the beginning of this video or you'll miss the sick pass from Carlos to Cyle:
And here’s the other assist:
I look for big things from Rivas in 2016, playing with Orlando City. With a solid first MLS season under his belt, Rivas knows what he must do to take his game to the next level. He must be stronger on the ball, not take so many long-range, low-percentage shots, and get more of his efforts on target. He can also benefit from staying onside (something he did much better the second half of the season), and not looking to draw fouls as often.
I expect Rivas will find room in Heath's lineup on a regular basis in 2016 and he could even become the regular starter at left wing, depending on what the club decides to do with Shea. The Shea/Rivas combo down the left side was deadly against the Red Bulls, after Boden moved inside to take Hines' spot at center back. That's a dynamic attacking flank I'd like to see more of next year.
Final 2015 Rating
The Mane Land staff has given Rivas a composite score of 7 out of 10. The score that came up most often was 6.5, but when averaged together, the rating rounded up to a 7. With more accurate shooting, a few goals, and perhaps one or two fewer dives over the course of the season, Rivas could have finished with the team's highest season rating. The consensus is that this is a young (he's still only 21) player with a ton of talent and potential. His ceiling is perhaps higher than Fabian Castillo's, which is high praise indeed, but he has a long way to go to even come close to the FC Dallas star's on-field production and accomplishments.