During Tuesday night's Orlando City Coach's Show with Adrian Heath, the Lions boss was asked about why he continues to start Carlos Rivas despite his struggles this season. Heath's reasoning was that Rivas is young and continues to develop. But is that how the first team should be used?
Heading into its inaugural MLS season, Orlando City signed two young designated players: Honduran Bryan Rochez and Colombian Carlos Rivas. While Rochez has had a nightmare season, which included losing his passport while with the Honduran under-20 national team, Rivas has played a prominent role in Heath's lineup.
At just 20 years of age, there's no question that Rivas has shown great potential. However, his lack of defensive awareness and ill-advised shot taking when playing in the midfield has shown that he still has a long way to go to fully develop his game.
Rivas has taken quite a bit of criticism from fans this season over both his play and the lack of development shown during games. Heath was asked about this Tuesday night and vigorously defended the player.
"Most of the people who are criticizing Carlos have never left America and gone to a foreign country where they don't speak the language and it's a completely different way of life," Heath stated. "So first and foremost he's a kid. He's 20 years of age. And he's had a lot of problems on and off the field this year. You don't take a kid from Colombia or Benfica or Inter Milan and people like that we're trying to buy, if he's not got talent."
What Heath is either misunderstanding, or ignoring, in his defense of Rivas is that fans are not attempting to claim that Rivas doesn't have talent. But the first team should not be about developing players, especially if you're not seeing that development on the field.
Another player that was undoubtedly raw at the beginning of the season was striker Cyle Larin. The 20-year-old struggled early as he had never learned how to use his body to hold the ball or attack the ball against bigger competition. But as the season has progressed, Larin has clearly been able to take what he has learned in training and use it games. From the stands, Larin's improvement has been clear on game day.
That hasn't been the case with Rivas. When starting in the midfield, Rivas often still struggles with the same things he did at the beginning of the season. He still fails to observe his defensive responsibilities and insists on taking ill-advised shots 35 yards from goal.
Even in his defense of Rivas, Heath admits there's much work to do. "Has he given us enough?" Heath asks about the midfielder. "Probably not."
Rivas' negative impact on other players was easily seen recently during Orlando City's 3-1 victory over Sporting Kansas City. For the first hour of the game in which Rivas played, left back Luke Boden was unable to go forward, which is when he is most dangerous. If Boden had gone forward, Rivas was unlikely to cover that position, which would leave the team vulnerable to a counter attack.
When Brek Shea came on 61 minutes into the game, Boden's game changed too. Boden knew if he went forward, Shea would cover for him. This allowed the defender to join in the attack, something that has become a staple of Heath's system. It's something fans want to see out of Rivas.
To be fair to Heath, the club's lack of depth has made it difficult to replace a player like Shea who continues his return to match fitness after enduring sports hernia surgery. Also in Heath's defense, the club currently doesn't have a reserve team where Rivas can receive quality minutes -- something that will change next season.
Heath's claim that fans and media that criticize Rivas' play aren't knowledgeable is ridiculous. What those fans and media are saying is that the first team should not be used as a developmental side. That's what the U-23 team is currently for and the USL team will be for next season. The first team should be the finished product, especially in a tight playoff race.
Heath may have just been defending his young player and slightly overstepped in calling out fans. To be fair to Heath, there currently is no reserve team in which to play Rivas at the moment. But fans' criticism of Rivas is justified by anyone who understands the game, despite what Heath says.