VANCOUVER, B.C. – There’s no simple way to describe Octavio Rivero’s first season in MLS.
The Vancouver Whitecaps striker hit the ground running, with five goals in his first six games. But the Uruguayan was only able to add another five goals in his next 28 matches in MLS, and three of those were penalties. The 'Caps eventually fell to rival Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Semifinals of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs, failing to score a goal in the two-leg series.
It was a dramatic swing for the striker, despite one of the consistently highest work rates on the team, which left him disappointed in himself.
"Personally, I believe I didn't achieve all I hoped for," Rivero said through a translator. "Principally, I think I am the first critic. And yes… I think to work harder, work together more as a team, and individually before anything, something that will be better for the team next year, and for me too."
Rivero's self-criticism spilled over onto his Twitter account, and his honesty struck a cord with Whitecaps supporters, who quickly rallied around the striker.
Although the goals weren't there for Rivero, his constant hustle pleased 'Caps head coach Carl Robinson. The priority for both Robinson and Rivero now is to turn that hustle and his 101 shots, 41 of which were on target, into more than just 10 goals.
"If you look at his record, he's 23 years of age, and he has scored goals in three different countries," Robinson told reporters. "Could he have scored more goals? Yes he could, without a doubt.
"Octavio puts himself in areas. He had a number of shots. I think he was in the top three or four players for shots. Now my job is to help him with shots on target and goals created."
One way to do that may be through a change of formation. Rivero was left to plow a lonely furrow up front for most of this year. He was often isolated and forced to come out wide to collect the ball, with no runs being made through the middle.
Robinson is still very much an advocate of the 4-2-3-1 system, with his two solid defensive midfielders and one striker up top, pointing out that it's a system regularly used by the four remaining teams in the MLS playoffs.
Rivero feels the formation isn't as big an issue as the support of those playing behind him.
"It is important to play as a team," Rivero said. "In Uruguay and in Chile, I used to play as the only striker in front, and all of the team used to play together to pass the ball forward. It is important for the striker, as much as the midfielder and the defender, to work as a team.
"We defend well, but when we move forward we tend to lose the ball, and I think that is what we are lacking. It's important to look into that and work together."
Robinson is quick to point out that all of the Whitecaps goalscoring problems don't fall at the feet of one player. The 'Caps coach targeted an extra 25 goals this season from the 42 they scored in 2014. He got three.
It’s an "improvement" that shows the club is going in the right direction, he said, but he also knows there needs to be more and that other players need to step up and help Rivero.
"It was a concern towards the end of the season," Robinson admitted. "We know we need to improve in the goals area. Can we do that by bringing one player in? Yeah, we possibly could.
"Can we do that by coaching and developing the individuals to get better? Octavio, Kekuta [Manneh], [Cristian] Techera, Pedro [Morales], Kendall [Waston]. Can we increase their goals? If we do that by committee, that may help us as well."
Finding a goal scorer was Robinson's priority last offseason, and he admits that's still the No. 1 aim this time around. The chances seem high of Rivero getting additional help in the squad.
"Will we be looking to add other pieces?" Robinson mused. "One hundred percent we will. Will we be looking to supplement what [Rivero's] strengths are? Yes, without a doubt we will. Will we be hoping we keep Pedro fit? Yes we will, without a doubt. So there's a number of factors we look into."
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Rivero admits he found it "difficult" at times adjusting to life in a new league. Turf fields and long travel took its toll, but he feels it's just something he needs to get used to and hopes to by the time next season rolls around.
For now, he's already thinking ahead to next year, as he prepares to return to South America for the short offseason.
"I'm going to go back home to Uruguay with my family and relax," Rivero said. "I also want to work very hard in the preseason back at home and then come back here and try my hardest."
Those are sentiments echoed by his coach.
"He needs a rest," Robinson said of his striker. "It's important he gets a rest now when he goes back home, but it's important that he comes back fitter and stronger for next year. He started off like a house on fire and I remember he won Player of the Month in the first month. Everyone was saying he could be the best player in the league.
"Expectations in this city are brilliant, they really are, because you go from being the best to being the worst in a short period of time. He's certainly not the best, and he's certainly not the worst. We know he's a working project. We know he's got the potential to do it, but he's 23, so we've got to work with him with that."