MONTREAL – The Impact are hoping that this time, Nelson Rivas is coming back for good.
It has been a tough season for the Colombian, who has missed 16 games through various injuries. Fully healthy since the last week of July, Rivas nevertheless skipped Montreal’s last three games through suspension, this time, because of a headbutt to Philadelphia’s Antoine Hoppenot.
The center back will be available again this Saturday as the Impact will try to extend their winning streak to six games against the Crew in Columbus (7:30 pm ET, MLS Live), and Rivas is adamant that going back to thinking about soccer, and soccer only, is a relief.
“It’s been difficult,” Rivas told reporters through an interpreter on Thursday. “I had two important injuries this year, missed a number of games. Coming back from that is tough, but that’s soccer. It happens. You just need to keep training, keep progressing and make it back onto the field. Now I’m ready.”
With Rivas, Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari at his disposal, head coach Jesse Marsch will be spoiled for choice at center back, though Ferrari could end up playing on the right in what Marsch jokingly called “our 29th different backline.”
That’s not far off. It will actually be the 19th.
“I think [Rivas] has been anxious to serve out his suspension, and we’re all happy that it’s over,” Marsch said. “He's learned from it, he's fit, sharp and ready to go.”
Watching the team do well in his absence was pleasing to Rivas, but getting suspended generally makes a player worried about losing his place in the matchday squad. In this case, Rivas says that, with the level of competition in the team, one has to “always” feel worried about his spot.
The best way for Rivas to maintain his place in the lineup would be to pick up where he left off next to Nesta, with whom he’d struck a promising partnership before his sending off against the Union on Aug. 4.
Thankfully for him, Rivas has a few memories that might make it easier for him to limit the number of touches of the ball by arguably the hottest recent newcomer in MLS, Federico Higuaín.
“I’ve played against his brother,” Rivas said, in reference to Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuaín. “I don’t know [Federico], but every player’s tough to play against. We’re playing at a high level, and every player’s difficult to play. We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing to win, and we'll be okay.”