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In Kaká’s Absence, Carlos Rivas Shines

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Kaká’s absence may have had a positive impact on Carlos Rivas’ growth this season.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Great news for Orlando City Soccer Club fans: Kaká is close to a return to the OCSC lineup, and he may be available for Sunday’s road game against NYCFC. While fans are excited about the captain’s return to fitness, Kaká’s absence may have had a positive impact on Carlos Rivas’ growth this season. The Colombian’s contribution to OCSC’s second place position is significant despite not getting on the score sheet so far.

Rivas benefited in two ways in Kaká’s absence. First, Rivas saw a lot more of the ball as a target player than if Kaká was on the field. Kaká normally fills this role because his teammates trust his ability to hold onto possession and continue the attack — nothing new here, the guy was the world’s greatest player at one point.

Rivas was the player to benefit the most in this area with Kaká out. He received many of those passes in the last five games because he is strong with his back to goal, plus he runs like a train onto through balls. It helps that Rivas is playing in a position more comfortable to him this season. His advanced position as a striker naturally draws more passes from his teammates as well.

Second, Rivas likes to play down the left side of the field. Kaká also favors this area of the field, starting out wide left and then working his way inside to find a through ball for Larin, or shooting on his dominant right foot. In Kaká’s absence, Rivas has covered a lot of ground down the left side of Orlando’s attack. He is capable of beating his marker to the end line and whipping in dangerous crosses. In addition, he can also play an early cross that curls behind the defense for Larin, like he did on Sunday, although Larin wasn’t able to control the pass.

Does this mean Rivas becomes a lesser player when Kaká is back in the lineup? He may see less of the ball, but, with the addition of Kaká, Rivas can become an even better player. Kaká’s talent draws the attention of defenders, leaving Rivas more space in the attacking third of the field. Rivas may also benefit from Kaká’s service. We’ve already mentioned Rivas’ speed to latch onto through balls. Kaká may in turn provide Rivas with more passes to chase down and run at defenders with.

But there is the problem of both players preferring the left side of the field. If Rivas ends up spending more time on the right side of the field, he is a threat to cut in on his left to shoot on goal. He did this on Saturday against the LA Galaxy. Not that Rivas has to shoot every time he gets the ball to be dangerous on the right side, but defenders will have to respect his ability to do so.

We really don’t know how Jason Kreis will use Rivas and Kaká together. We have one lineup and 10 minutes of play as a sample this season, and last year’s examples are almost irrelevant since Rivas has improved so much this season. What is obvious is that Rivas will not have the same space on the left wing or the same amount of touches with Kaká back in the team.

Sure, Rivas may very well have put together better performances this season with Kaká in the lineup — it is possible. But Kaká’s absence may have served as Miracle Grow for Rivas’ progress this season. One thing is for sure, both Kreis and fans alike are excited about an attack featuring Rivas, Kaká, and Larin in the near future.