After selecting him to start in each of the club’s first six games, Jason Kreis decided it was time to leave Carlos Rivas on the bench for a change. Not because he was playing poorly or did something to put himself in the dog house, it was just a simple “coach’s decision,” the gaffer explained after the match.
For 60 minutes, Rivas sat on the sideline, watching comfortably from the shaded bench on the west side of Orlando City Stadium. His teammates fought tirelessly in the late-April sun, riding down the path towards a scoreless draw against an abysmal Colorado Rapids side.
And then Kreis made his move.
Just as he had planned, Kreis waited until the moment was right to bring in the 23-year-old Colombian, and in the 59th minute, alongside his captain, Kaká, he entered the pitch and completely turned the game on its head.
Two minutes in, he flew through two defenders on the left side to reach a Kaká ball, before whipping a cross into the box, too far ahead for any of his teammates to catch up in time. He did the same thing again three minutes later to win a corner. And then in the 70th minute, Rivas launched a missile — the kind that would normally sail 17 rows deep into the seats — from distance on the left that gave Zac MacMath virtually no chance to stop it for his first goal of the season.
That goal has been a long time coming this season for Rivas, who now has four in his Orlando City career after adding his first three scores in 2016.
“He made a massive [contribution] today,” Kreis said about Rivas’ performance after the match. “So really, really pleased for him that he finally gets the goal that breaks the camel’s back hopefully and I believe we’re going to see incredible things moving forward from him.”
It’s taken a while for Rivas to find that first goal of the season, and you can only hope that it turns out to be his Kevin Molino moment of 2017 — Molino struggled to score for Orlando City last season until scoring his first MLS goal on a penalty kick in early May that opened the floodgates for a very successful 2016 campaign.
Ahead of maybe Bryan Rochez, who is now with Atlanta United, Rivas has been one of the most frustrating players to watch since the Lions made the jump to MLS, not because he hasn’t played to any of his potential, but because he has from time to time but struggled to consistently string those performances together.
In 2015, we saw it every few games as he went on to a goalless season in 27 appearances. And then last year, we saw it a bit more often, especially more down the stretch once Kreis stepped into the head coaching role in the final three months of the season. And now, here we are in 2017. We’re seven games into the season, and after just about every game we’re sitting here, whether on Twitter or behind the scenes in our Mane Land Slack channel, talking about how much of an impact Rivas has had on these early results. He has three assists already this season, but Saturday was his first time directly impacting the scoreline with a goal.
His maturity and growth not just as a player but a person has taken Rivas to the next level. And Kreis deserves some credit as well.
During the off-season, the coaching staff gave all of the players devices that would track their training. Rivas was one of a few players that reported back to camp in poor shape, and spent the first couple of weeks running before he even touched a ball in training.
But now we’re in May, and he’s earned a ton of respect from Kreis, and built great partnerships on the field with both Cyle Larin and Kaká. He’s thriving in the new two-forward system that Kreis introduced this preseason, and is doing everything that the coaches are asking of him defensively, while still using his blazing speed to tear defenses apart.
“Carlos is very important for this group. He is playing very good,” Kaká said after Saturday’s match. “He is helping the defensive system, he is helping everything. This goal gives him a reward for the job that he has done so far.”
And you can see how hard he’s worked. He was still a raw prospect with a high ceiling, and now it’s coming together. He’s working with his teammates, he’s staying onside, he’s learning when to cross at the right time and when to take on defenders down the wing, and he’s becoming a better passer, too.
Orlando City could have given up on Rivas a long time ago. And in fact, FourFourTwo.com reporter Paul Tenorio tweeted out during the game that the club was presented with an opportunity to sell him a while back. But the Lions said no, and now they’re much better off because of it, because Carlos Rivas has finally become a better player — the one that Orlando City thought they were buying from Deportivo Cali in 2014.