Carlos Rivas has progressively gotten better every year since he became a Lion. From being considered one of the worst Designated Players in Major League Soccer to figuring in six of Orlando City’s goals (one goal, five assists) in 10 games, Rivas is on pace for a career year.
With just over a quarter of the season played, Rivas is on pace to register the third-most assists in an MLS season (17) since 2008 (behind Landon Donovan — 19 in 2014 — and Sacha Kljestan — 20 in 2016). He’s also on his way to amassing over twice the amount of minutes he played in 2015 and 2016 combined (2,516), and having more games started in 2017 (28) than either of his first two seasons’ total games played. Those figures may be related, although it’s likely that the switch to striker is just as responsible for the Colombian’s renaissance as increased minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, he still has those “Rivas Moments.” You know the ones — when he takes a long-range shot that is closer to out of the stadium than the back of the net. But “Rocket Rivas” is making a new name for himself in 2017. Rivas’ first goal of 2017 came off one of those long-range shots, and the difference in outcomes sums up his season so far. Instead of finding Row Z, Rivas kept the ball low and found the upper 90.
The 23-year-old former Deportivo Cali man may not be scoring many goals, but setting someone else up to score is equally important. Rivas’ five assists are tied for third in Major League Soccer and his 0.61 assists per 90 minutes rank just 0.01 below second-place Alex of the Houston Dynamo in that category.
His distribution numbers this year could wind up ahead of Kaká, who has yet to assist on a goal, although admittedly the captain’s numbers should rise as he gets more minutes. But Rivas has been special in picking out teammate Cyle Larin in 2017. Just take a look at this equalizing goal from this past weekend:
Standing patiently on the corner of the box, the Colombian puts the ball on a platter for Larin. All the Canadian has to do is get a touch on it. It is his hesitation before putting the ball in, combined with a great first touch and Larin’s movement, that makes the goal. Rivas has made plays like this all season, and continues to improve each week. Had Larin converted the two opportunities Rivas served him up in Toronto, Rivas would be just one behind TFC’s Victor Vazquez for the MLS assist lead. That happens sometimes to strikers but at least the ball is getting to Larin, which hasn’t always been the case the last two seasons.
With the partnership of Rivas and Larin up top, and Kaká just underneath, Orlando City has already proven it will be an attacking threat in the Eastern Conference. But if Rivas keeps up his form, starts threatening the net, and continues to progress as he has been, the Lions will be in the hunt for their first MLS championship.