Carlos Rivas was a considerably unknown commodity to fans when Orlando City signed him to a Designated Player contract in January. But the club knew exactly what they were getting themselves into.
The 21-year-old Colombian winger was fantastic in Orlando City's 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night after being subbed in for Brek Shea late in the first half. Rivas assisted on Cyle Larin's game-winner, made smart runs on the attack, and kept the Rapids on their toes throughout the match with his blazing speed.
The performance earned him praise from Orlando City players and coaches alike.
"I don't want to sit here and say 'I told you so,' but I told you so," head coach Adrian Heath said at his post-game presser.
"It's a start for him," Heath continued. "He has lots of qualities. You don't do what he was doing. You don't go on the interest that he had in Cali. We were talking about some of the biggest clubs in Europe watching him. He's had a difficult start. There is no two ways about it. As I said, when these kids come from a different country, can't speak the language at 20, 21 years old, it's going to take him time. I was really pleased with him because he did some of the stuff we knew he could do. I just hope this is a start for him, that he can keep injury free. Everything is moving in the right direction."
Orlando City signed Rivas to a five-year deal earlier this year, and he got off to a slow start with the Lions after spending most of the preseason on the sideline with a shoulder knock. When he finally returned, a hamstring injury was quick to put him back on the bench. Now, Rivas is healthy, he's back in full training on a daily basis, and the results are showing.
"He signed a five year deal, it wasn't make or break the first few months of the five years." Heath said. "If we have to wait another three, four months, we're prepared to do that. I know what it's like to leave England and go play in Spain. I was 27 and it was not easy. He's taking his time. The kid has a lot of really good qualities."
Rivas has come a long way since joining Orlando City. Sure, like most young players, he's prone to making silly decisions and mistakes on the pitch, but lately he's been making smarter plays that have been factors in helping the Lions win games.
For starters, take a look at this play against the Chicago Fire a few weeks ago:
A couple weeks before that, Rivas wouldn't have thought twice about holding onto the ball and firing a shot straight at goalkeeper Jon Busch. However, after regular training time, and a better understanding for the game and his teammates, Rivas opted to give the ball off to Larin, whose hustle forced a game-winning own goal.
Another smart play from Rivas, this one coming from Wednesday's game against Colorado:
Rivas, noticing Kaká coming up behind him on the right with plenty of space open on the left, makes a hard run across the defense -- a run that most young attacking players wouldn't think to make -- that drags the entire back line over with him, leaving the Rapids with two defenders to focus on Cristian Higuita running with the ball up the middle. Kaká is left alone on the right, given space to move into the box and slip a shot by Clint Irwin for a goal. Great play, with some credit going to Rivas for the run.
Heath said it best: it's going to take time with him, but you can already start to see things coming together. Yes, he's still taking 30-yard blasts that go 16 rows into the stands -- c'mon, you know you love it when he does that -- but the smart plays are showing up more often these days.
"He played very good he made all the right decisions to put himself in the chance to score," Kaká said of Rivas after the game. "He is improving at the end when it matters."
Wednesday night's game against Colorado was probably Rivas' best game yet in an Orlando City shirt, and one could easily argue that the best is still yet to come for this youngster. Orlando City is finally getting the Carlos Rivas it paid for.