The curious case of Carlos Rivas has created a mixed reaction among the Orlando City fan base. To some, Rivas is not worth his Young Designated Player tag; to others, he is full of untapped potential just waiting to break out. The latter set of fans might have gained the upper hand last weekend when Rivas tallied his first goal in MLS and salvaged a point in Foxborough.
While Rivas has developed a reputation for skying shots into the stands and being all pace with no end product, perhaps he's turned a corner. We've seen Kevin Molino's goal scoring pick up after netting his first, maybe Rivas is the next in line.
Whether he scores or not, though, Carlos has created a discussion for whether or not he should be in the starting lineup. His pace is unmatched by anyone else on the roster. His crossing ability and overall connection with Cyle Larin was a key part of City's terrific run to end the 2015 season. In fact, there is a good chance that a lineup with Rivas performs much better than one without him for a number of reasons.
The first reason is width. For a team that often plays with a 4-2-3-1 formation, there are only two true wingers on the roster: Rivas and Adrian Winter. Kevin Molino, Kaká, and Júlio Baptista are the same type of player; they operate best centrally and often drift inside instead of hugging the touchline. Playing all three of them together would either clog up the center of the pitch or dilute their effectiveness. Winter has been occupying the left side of midfield in the last few matches, but he's predominantly right-footed and prone to drifting inside just like the others.
Generally in Adrian Heath's system, this isn't an issue; the width is supposed to come from the fullbacks. But in recent matches, Brek Shea has been unable to provide a consistent defensive effort and the Lions have struggled on that side of the pitch. Rivas would, in theory, provide the width and allow Shea to be more conservative in his approach and perhaps even focus on the defensive end more than the offense. Rivas playing as a more traditional winger would also give Kaká or any other central attacking midfielder more room to operate by pulling fullbacks and midfielders away from the center of the field. That's not to say that Carlos can't operate inside, his goal against the Revolution is a testament to that, but it gives the offense an additional threat.
Rivas' pace is also a major asset. While Winter is quick, Rivas is one of the fastest players in MLS and has serious ability to stretch defenses. Whether it's a long ball played from the back or a diagonal pass in behind the opponent's back line, Rivas adds a new vertical dimension. We've seen the fits he can give defenses. Even in a supporting role, if he can pull the defense out of shape it will provide far more opportunities for attackers running the channels.
What could be the best part of Rivas' game is something that the Lions are lacking from the left side. His crossing ability may be the best on the Lions' roster outside of Luke Boden, but as long as the Englishman is injured or on the bench, there is virtually no aerial service coming in from the left. Shea has failed to prove he can connect with any cross this season and with towering players like Larin, Baptista, as well as Kaká in the area, it seems like a bit of a waste to not have that option.
Rivas' curling crosses also bend around defenses, which is nice if you're an Orlando striker. If you watch his epic performance against the New York Red Bulls last season, Larin doesn't need to run behind his defender to collect the ball. He also puts it in a threatening place between the defenders and the goalkeeper, forcing the keeper to make a decision and potentially affecting his positioning.
Rivas is unlike any other player Orlando City has at its disposal. Injecting him into the starting lineup while he is in form should be an easy decision. While Kaká, Baptista, and Molino may be the best attacking midfielders on the team, they aren't the best wingers; they all present the same problems to a defense. Rivas offers new challenges.
In order to really test defenses, Rivas should be the go-to.