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Carlos Rivas, Orlando City, and the Most Overused Word in Sports: Potential

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Rivas has started off great this season, but can he reach the potential of another dynamic Colombian of MLS past?

New York City FC v Orlando City SC Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Carlos Rivas may be on his way to a true breakout season. The start to Rivas’ 2017 season has been solid, and he has already produced pretty much half the stats he managed to earn last season.

For instance, last season Rivas finished at 799 minutes with three goals and four assists. This year he is already at 179 minutes with assists on two of Orlando City’s three goals. The interesting thing about Rivas is that it seems he has finally found his place within the team in Orlando.

Rivas started in 2015 in MLS. He came into the league as a talented left-footed attacker who enjoyed success in Colombia’s top division. When he came into the league, he was noted as an individual with tons of potential. He was fast, he was good on the ball, and proved that he could score in his time in Colombia. On top of everything else, Rivas signed his contract as a 20-year-old talent. The potential was evident.

But what transpired didn’t meet the expectations many had foreseen. Under the guidance of former Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath — who, in fairness, urged patience with the young Colombian — Rivas never really seemed like he was going to be a breakout star. For two seasons, what we got was a guy who would have a great game and then simply disappear. He was consistently the most inconsistent player Orlando City had. To make it tougher, the last two seasons Orlando has been in need of a second reliable forward or a left midfielder, and with those opportunities available, Rivas never capitalized.

This is what we at The Mane Land had to say about Rivas and his 2016 campaign.

Through two years in the purple, Carlos Rivas still remains Orlando City’s biggest mystery. Is he a raw youngster developing into a future superstar, or is he destined for inconsistency?

Rivas showed the ability to earn some strong grades, but the inconsistency takes its toll over an entire season. The talent is clear in Rivas, but the club is still left wondering what his ceiling (and his floor) truly is.

Question Marks on top of Question Marks

Rivas had us wondering if this would be a make-or-break season for the young man. We wondered if he would ever truly break out into a consistent role with the club. Much of that remains unanswered, as we are only two games in, but being optimistic about Rivas right now is exactly how fans should feel.

For now, he has been good. He is meeting expectations by being creative and electric in attack, creating opportunities for Orlando’s go-to goal scorer, Cyle Larin. Flashes of what Rivas has shown not only this season but in seasons past has reminded us of another standout Colombian: Fabian Castillo.

Right now, Rivas has not reached the heights that Castillo reached in his time with FC Dallas, but the similarities between the two are there nonetheless. Starting with the basics: the two are of Colombian descent, they are both left-footed, dynamic, and exciting attackers, and finally, they are both blurs of speed.

Castillo was a wonderful player for FC Dallas and he really came into his own under the tutelage of Oscar Pareja. The two meshed well and Pareja let Castillo figure out his style of play and ultimately gave him the freedom to roam and help out the team from all angles.

What this led to was an inevitable All-Star appearance in 2015 from Castillo. His season was capped by nine goals and nine assists, and Dallas was turning into one of the more exciting teams in all of MLS. The excitement stemmed from the play of Castillo and others, and led to the playoffs and further successes.

On that Dallas team, Castillo was the go-to player and carried more of a burden by being in that role. In Orlando, Rivas won’t have to carry the weight of being the No. 1 option. Larin is the man up top and then Kaká, upon his inevitable return, carries much of the creative burden. Rivas is a third or fourth scoring option on this team and will remain that way for at least the remainder of this season.

As far as everything Castillo achieved in his time with Dallas and the imposing threat he consistently was from the left flank, this is what we want to see out of Rivas.

Rivas is currently playing forward alongside Larin. But it almost feels like he is playing from a more central area and drifting to the left. He has had a hand in all three goals this season, two originating from the left midfield and the other coming from a center attacking position. He was credited with two assists for his efforts.

The idea of Rivas playing a part in all three goals scored through two games this season was not the expectation of him. If this were a month ago and I had to predict who would be playing a part in every goal scored so far, I would have gone with Larin (who has scored all three) or Kaká. My thought process would not have included Rivas at the time, but here we are.

The other influential part of this whole thing is the guidance of Jason Kreis. Kreis, of course, doesn't want to take all of the credit as he has deflected it back to his two forwards, but the head coach is letting Rivas be free in attack and it is helping.

“I think it’s something that really came about in the preseason and mostly due to Carlos’ willingness to work extremely hard and give us something different with his running in behind defenders, noted Kreis. “Because he’s done that, and he did it at the end of last season as well, he’s really earned us thinking that we want to play that way.”

“He opens up the space,” stated Larin, Rivas’ strike partner. “He is very strong and quick and good with the ball. He attacks the defenders. When he goes down the line to cross the ball, I make sure I am in the box.”

The Carlos Rivas we have seen through two games is exactly what we want to continue to see. He is influential in attack because he is showing the defense that he is a true threat with the ball and with his ability to speed behind them. His touch has been good, his ability to take on defenders has been good, and — most importantly — his decision making has been correct.

Based on everything we have seen so far, Rivas is on his way to a good season, which is certainly better than the below-average seasons he has been having. Rivas may not reach the star level that Castillo reached in Dallas, but he certainly has the ability to fulfill that potential.

I know the word “potential” is thrown around a lot, but think about this: Castillo had an All-Star season that consisted of nine goals and nine assists and he was the best player on the Dallas team. More importantly for Castillo was the fact that he was always a threat, whether or not he was majorly effective in the game.

Rivas needs to always be a threat in the games, and so far he looks to be doing that. Nine goals and nine assists is a real nice season for anyone to have, and I feel that Rivas can reach the assists mark and maybe surpass it at this rate. The goals may be a bit harder to come by, as it looks as if Larin will be shouldering the brunt of the goals scored.

Right now, Rivas has been the most influential in attack and, yes, I know that Larin has scored all three goals, but those goals do not come without Rivas in the build-up. The right pass being made at the right time is every bit as important as putting the ball into the back of the net.

Castillo was more of a dynamic and consistent threat than a true goal-scoring machine. To say that Rivas doesn't have the potential to be a “dynamic and consistent threat” should absolutely be seen as false. As a matter of fact, Rivas is already proving that he is dynamic, but the other key is consistency. If he can be consistent, then Rivas will be on to his greatest season to date for the Lions.

For a final thought, think about this: Fabian Castillo was the best player on Dallas and had a great midfield to help him when he wasn't as effective as he should be. Carlos Rivas has this as well. The midfield in Orlando is a very good one, but more importantly for Rivas in contrast to Castillo, Rivas has a better forward alongside him. Castillo never had a great forward in Blas Perez, he was more mediocre to solid at best. Cyle Larin is a great forward in this league and if anything is going to help push Rivas to the next level, it will be Larin’s ability to finish in front of the net.