Carlos Rivas is likely to start the next chapter of his Orlando City career in a familiar situation come March 5. Jason Kreis has finally shown his hand over the course of the last two preseason friendlies against the Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC. All of the speculation over how he would deploy his players and who would fill the hole in the starting lineup left by Kevin Molino seems to have been answered. Rivas looks to be getting the start at striker next to Cyle Larin in a basic 4-4-2.
There will be a lot of other story lines come opening day: Orlando’s fantastic new stadium, Kreis taking on the team that fired him, and the battle between legends of the game in Kaká, Andrea Pirlo, and David Villa all come to mind. It’s a familiar foe on a familiar weekend.
But it could seem especially like déjà vu for City faithful, who watched Carlos Rivas make his debut in 2015 against New York City FC during the first match of the season. He was given a surprise place in the first team after supposed starter Martin Paterson was held out with injury, so he led the line by himself in front of over 60,000 fans.
It was a memorable start to his career in Orlando, but for all the wrong reasons. He was constantly caught offside trying to use his pace to stretch the NYCFC back line. He registered five shots but they all went woefully wide, something he has come to be known for over the past two years. He was taken off after 89 minutes and had to watch Kaká’s heroics from the sideline. For the young Colombian with so much promise, it was disappointing.
But a lot has happened since that March in 2015 for Rivas and he has begun to show the promise that earned him a Young Designated Player tag. We’ve seen him begin to develop a connection with Larin, especially in the Lions’ 2015 5-2 thrashing of the New York Red Bulls where Rivas tore apart the left flank and registered two assists to the Canadian striker. He took over a match against the Montreal Impact last year, notching a goal and two assists and winning a penalty to have a hand in every goal scored by the Lions that day. His first touch was sublime, he managed to time his runs in behind the back line, and he capped it off by popping a pacifier in his mouth to celebrate the birth of his son.
Now, in a new formation under Kreis, Rivas has the opportunity to show that promise more consistently. It’s a quintessential Jason Kreis pairing for the forward tandem; a bigger striker capable of holding up the ball in Cyle Larin and a quicker player to run off him in Rivas. They seem to be linking up well during preseason so far, even if the combination hasn’t been producing a bucket of goals. Rivas has managed to bag himself a couple so far in the past few weeks and it’s encouraging to see him keep the ball under the crossbar.
So it’s take two for Carlos, this time with nearly 50 MLS appearances under his belt. The expectations aren’t as sky high anymore; he still carries a Designated Player tag but no one is expecting DP performances week in and week out. But Kreis has placed his faith in the Colombian’s abilities over the experience of Brek Shea, opting to shift Kaká wide left rather than keep him central so the YDP has the chance to shine. Kreis has publicly stated that he’s trying to find a formation his players can fit rather than trying to fit his players to a formation. Rivas has obviously impressed enough in training to earn a spot in the first team.
Now he has an opportunity to turn the page on his Orlando City career and show the fans what he’s capable of. It’s fitting that we’ll get to see a new Rivas in an old setting, to have an immediate comparison for how much he’s grown in the last two years.