VANCOUVER, B.C. – Vancouver Whitecaps' strong defensive record has served them well over the course of the season.
With 14 clean sheets this year, keeping the ball out of their own net hasn't been a big issue for Vancouver. But when it comes to putting it in the back of the net themselves, well that's been a completely different story recently.
The Whitecaps have been kept off the scoresheet in five of their last nine MLS matches. The latest blank came in the 0-0 draw Sunday in Portland in Leg 1 of their Western Conference Semifinal matchup of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs against the Timbers.
As the 'Caps prepare for this weekend's second leg at BC Place (10 pm ET; FS1 in US and TSN in Canada), head coach Carl Robinson needs someone in his team to find their goal-scoring touch if his side is to advance.
Octavio Rivero has been plowing a lone furrow up front for Vancouver for most of the season, but with the Uruguayan having gone without a goal in his last seven matches, Robinson is prodding the striker to spark the attack.
"I want to see goals," Robinson told reporters at training this week. "If we're going to get through this game, we need goals. Whether it's from Octavio, whether it's from Darren [Mattocks] or Earnie [Robert Earnshaw]. Whoever you play, there's always an argument to play someone else, and I accept that.
"At the end of the day, if Octavio goes and scores his goal after 20 minutes on Sunday, I'm sure you'll all be talking to him here and saying what a great season's he's had. Fine lines."
Rivero's MLS career got off to a blistering start, with five goals in his first six games for the Whitecaps. Since then, the goals have somewhat dried up for the Uruguayan, with just one from open play in his last 24 MLS matches.
It's not the first time that Rivero has had a season with such peaks and troughs. In 2014 he scored seven goals in his first six matches for CA Rentistas in the Uruguayan Primera Division Clausura, before adding just another two in the remaining eight games.
It was the same story with O'Higgins in the Chilean Primera Division Apertura later that year, with Rivero scoring seven times in his first seven games and then three times in the remaining nine matches.
It’s an ominous history, but it's not something that is playing on the Uruguayan's mind and he’s confident the goal-scoring touch will return.
"No, the same as always," Rivero told MLSSoccer.com when asked if he was trying anything different in games and training to get the goals coming again. "Just training hard but being more mentally focused than ever because of the playoffs.
"I'm always wanting to score. I've come from playing at two clubs where I scored at least 20 goals. I'm used to scoring. My head's telling me to keep doing the same thing."
Robinson has turned to the video room in a bid to help unlock Rivero's goal-scoring touch once again. In particular, the 'Caps coach has been showing him footage of his former New York Red Bulls teammate, Juan Pablo Angel.
The Colombian spent six years in MLS, with stints with the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA following his time in New York. With 72 goals in his 152 appearance in the league, Robinson feels Angel is the ideal striker for Rivero to watch and learn from in terms of how to play in MLS.
"I played with Juan a number of years ago in New York, and one bit of advice he gave me, and I was never a goal-scoring player, was that you need to play centrally in the box," Robinson said. "You need to be in between the two center backs.
"As soon as you are involved in build-up play, the first thought is to get in the box. He's arguably one of the best forwards in this league that there has been and his goal-scoring record speaks for itself."
Robinson has been highlighting two aspects of Angel's play in particular – play centrally and take fewer touches.
Robinson feels Rivero has a trait often seen in South American players to drift out wide to get the ball. The end result is the ball is won but then there is no one running into the box to get onto the end of a cross.
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"I said to Octavio, the more simple you keep it, the more chances you'll get," Robinson added. "And to be fair to him, he done it in the first half [against Portland on Sunday] especially. He kept it very simple, he held the ball up, and his first instinct was get in the box.
“… If he continues to do that on Sunday, and continues to get more chances, I do believe that they will come."
Rivero is keen to learn and develop and has been taking the recent video sessions in stride. The desire to become a better player was the primary reason he left South America for Vancouver, and he feels Robinson can bring the best out of him.
"I think you can always learn from other players," Rivero said. "But first and foremost, I need to get the ball in the box. But yes, when I do get the chance then I'll try and do one touch if possible."
Rivero is a big fan of fellow South American players Diego Costa, Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero, all world-class attackers. And Robinson believes Rivero has the ability to be up there with them if he can hone his game.
“Top, top players play with an edge,” Robinson said. “You look at Didier Drogba, he's got an edge about him.
"Octavio's got that edge. He's still very young; he's got a lot to learn. He's still got a lot of progressing to do, but we'll work with him."