ORLANDO, Fla. – Carlos Rivas knows he has yet to really light the fire that his Designated Player status hints at for Orlando City SC. But both he and head coach Jason Kreis believe things will be different in 2017.
To start with, the Colombian flyer will likely start in a completely new role in Kreis’s revamped 4-4-2 system. After playing mostly in the 4-2-3-1 lineup he inherited from Adrian Heath, Kreis is reverting to the formation he knew best with Real Salt Lake.
And, after being used primarily as a left winger for much of his first two years with the Lions, or occasionally as a lone striker, Rivas is getting used to life as Cyle Larin’s strike partner.
It is quite a leap for the 22-year-old from Jamundi, Colombia, but he maintains he is taking it in stride. His preseason form has certainly been striking enough, with two goals and a couple of assists in four games.
He believes there is more to come.
“It feels very different this time,” he told MLSsoccer.com via the team’s interpreter. “I came back very fit and I hope to continue that in my training throughout the preseason and get fitter still, so I can help the team more, moving forward into the season itself.
“It takes time to get used to a new role and having a new partner up top, but slowly you get to know the person you have next to you. With Cyle, we are still getting to know each other, but we hope to get it right before the season starts so we can excel.”
Kreis is cautiously optimistic with what he has seen from his two-man strike force in games against Jacksonville University, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC. Orlando wrap up their preseason at home to Saint Louis FC on Saturday, and it looks very much like the new formation is here to stay.
“Yes, I think the 4-4-2 best fits the players we have,” Kreis said. “Carlos gives us a little bit of a different dynamic up there [with Cyle], with his power to run in behind the defense. He just needs to work on the timing of his runs, but some of the work he is doing defensively is spot on.
“I think he continues to put in the work and he’s getting there, but we’re not there yet. There were still times [against Toronto] when he switched off, and that’s something we need to work on as a team.”
Rivas maintains that his DP status is not a hindrance. He has just three goals and eight assists in his 48 Lions appearances to date, though only 21 of those were starts. But he shrugs off any link between his relative lack of production so far and the DP label.
‘No, it is normal [to have this kind of pressure],” he adds. “We just don’t pay attention to it. My focus is purely on the team. I know what I have to do and what I have to get better at, and the [DP] tag is not an issue.
“I know I have to be more physical, I know I have to get a little bit more fit and improve my movement and my finishing. But I have been training really hard to get better on these things and for this [new role].”