There’s a target on Carlos Rivas’ back. The young Colombian winger has had his bright moments in Orlando, but with a regime change and imminent shift in philosophy, Rivas will have to prove to new manager Jason Kreis that he still deserves a spot on the Orlando City squad.
Kreis has not been a fan of one-dimensional wingers during his time as a coach, preferring versatile central midfielders. The pace in his lineups is generally in the central striker partnership, not running past fullbacks near the corner flags. Rivas was never able to nail down a starting job under Adrian Heath, even though he had some spells of brilliance. The reality of Rivas’ game is that he often shoots too far off target far too often. Only 25% of his shots have been on target, which is not good enough for a goal scorer.
He can pick apart defenses with his speed and crossing ability, but he’s not consistent enough yet. He came in with expectations; double-digit goals for Deportivo Cali earned him a $1.5 million price tag and a Young Designated Player label attached to his name. It’s obvious as to why Orlando signed him, but there’s a certain level of production expected from any of a team’s DPs.
Rivas has bags of potential, that much is obvious. He’s still only 22 years old and has made 40 league appearances (17 starts) for the Lions but has only managed one goal and six assists. He tends to play well against lower league competition, with four goals in three U.S. Open Cup games, but three of those came from the penalty spot in a wild match in Charleston. For any other 22-year-old, 40 appearances would be impressive. You could chalk up the lack of goals to youth and see the potential in his left foot. But in MLS, being a DP doesn’t afford him the ability to progress gradually. He’s too good to loan out to OCB but he can’t be asked to start every week for the team yet. Rivas is in a stage of limbo until he either progresses with his development or the team cuts ties. And that’s if they give him much longer.
Kreis will mold the roster his way and of the three DPs, only Rivas doesn’t fit his play style. The much-maligned Bryan Róchez has proven that he has talent, too, and Kreis needs more strikers. If Róchez can turn it around with his hometown team in Honduras, there will be a place reserved for him in training camp. Rivas’ tenure hasn’t been marred by fitness or passport issues. He’s been available for the majority of training sessions.
Last Saturday’s match with Columbus was quintessential Rivas. He stung a shot over the bar with an open net just minutes after being brought on, but he had a major impact on the left side of the pitch, sending in threatening balls and toying with defenders and he nearly netted the winner in the dying minutes.
With Kreis in charge and a front office that’s willing to spend, a DP that fits Kreis’ ideals would be crucial to success under City’s new boss. Rivas has already been linked to Portugal, including Orlando’s partner Benfica. In a way, it could be best for Rivas’ career; the pressure would be off and he would have an opportunity and time to develop in one of the best academies in Europe. But he’s now a father and moving his new family halfway across the world is a lot to ask, as is moving away from them.
The pressure that’s put on him isn’t entirely his fault, while the stigma of the DP label and the change in coaching plans puts him in a bad spot. But Kreis has repeatedly said that his plans are not set in stone. He veered away from the 4-4-2 diamond in New York City to fit his personnel, and if Rivas proves that he deserves a place in the future plans, Kreis should fit him in. But to do that, he’s got to put it together for the last half of the season. He doesn’t have to break out and become a star, but he needs to show that he can be a key piece of a playoff team.
Until further notice, his future is in his hands.