ORLANDO, Fla.- Growing pains and growing up, that’s how Orlando City SC defines the new-found maturity of winger Carlos Rivas, who has become a key part of the Lions’ offense in the first month of the new season.
The Colombian arrived as one of the youngest Designated Players in league history in 2015 and, a couple of weeks ahead of his 23rd birthday, remains a fresh-faced and mercurial talent. Through 48 appearances in his first two seasons with Orlando, Rivas chalked up just three goals and eight assists, but when he was good, he was very good, leaving a lack of consistency as the chief knock on his skills.
Now, in 2017, with two assists in two games and a growing rapport with striker Cyle Larin in head coach Jason Kreis’ new-look 4-4-2 formation, it’s fair to ask if there has been a lightbulb moment for the speedy left-footer.
“Yeah, I think he’s growing,” Kreis said, ahead of the team’s Saturday trip to take on Columbus Crew SC (4 pm ET | MLS LIVE). “He’s a young player who is growing as a professional. He’s really embracing now what’s being asked of him, and trying to do that.
“But I could honestly tell you, from the moment I came in, I felt he was someone willing to do anything we asked, the majority of the time. When he does what we ask, he can bring a lot of useful tools to our team. He’s done a great job of that so far this season and I’d love him to get a goal, because he deserves it. Hopefully it will come this weekend.”
Rivas remains a reluctant talker off the field, shrugging off his early frustrations with the team to focus on the present – and his flourishing partnership with the powerful Larin.
“We understand how each other moves, and we understand how Jason wants us to play together, that’s why it’s been so good for us so far this season,” Rivas said through a translator. “We’ve had very good communication this season, Cyle and myself, and we’ve been focusing on that in training, so that’s why results are showing on the field.”
His improvement hasn’t been lost on his teammates, with attacker Giles Barnes – who arrived in a trade from Vancouver on February 25 – saying Rivas’s progress has been evident to everyone on the Lions’ squad.
“For his height, Carlos is a powerful boy,” Barnes said. “He is very quick and likes to play off the cuff, putting defenders on their back foot. The combination with him and Cyle is something they’ve been working hard on, and that’s where I think it’s come from.
“Cyle is a lot fitter than he was last year and I feel Rivas is getting there as well. He’s got a lot fitter over the last few weeks and I think that hard work is paying off, with those two coming together. It’s looking really good and promising for us.”
Rivas and Larin are notably sharp and dynamic in training, and the pair have clearly struck up a firm understanding that gives their teammates a tough time during practice. Uruguayan centerback Jose Aja sees them both up close every day, and thinks the 2017 version of Rivas is primed for a banner year.
“Carlos has become a fundamental weapon for us,” he said. “We know he has been growing a lot and, if he is physically and mentally prepared and fit, we know he can be a decisive player on the field for us.”