Similarities with last season could be found in abundance for the Vancouver Whitecaps at Toyota Park on Saturday. Carl Robinson's men headed into the game on the back of a season-opening defeat to Toronto FC and appeared determined to make amends for the mistakes which had ultimately led to the disappointing result. With the first victory of the campaign on the board you could argue that this was indeed achieved over Frank Yallop's Chicago Fire, however the narrow 1-0 score-line did not serve as a fair reflection of the side's potency going forward. Time after time the Caps sliced through their opposition's back-line and in equal regularity were left disappointed with the final product; in much the same fashion as last term where the team were simply unable to translate their often mesmerizing build-up play into goals. However, despite the frustrating sense of déjà vu, there was something unique to take from the performance that should be of tremendous encouragement to the blue and white: Octavio Rivero's second competitive appearance for the club.
Rivero is blessed with qualities that last year's options up top can only dream of acquiring - that's why Robinson has looked to him to remedy the issues which held Vancouver back throughout swathes of his first year in charge - and that technical superiority was exhibited far beyond his 86th minute winner in the Windy City. He reads the game to the same standard as team-mates Pedro Morales and Matias Laba, and is able to diagnose the movement of his peers, and of those attempting to stop him in the final third, to great effect. The former being especially impressive given how little time he's been afforded to build chemistry with his new colleagues and hopefully indicative of scope for even more with the longer he acclimates. There's reason to believe that the Uruguayan frontman's biggest influence on the Whitecaps will be how those around him benefit from his well honed, selfless play. His presence facilitates opportunities for the likes of Laba, Russell Teibert, and Gershon Koffie to contribute going forward and while much of this impact will not be visibly shown in statistics it will be as apparent as the need for new turf at BC Place upon closer inspection. He's accelerating their development as individuals and it's only a matter of time before the side begin to reap rewards from that.
Nicolas Mezquida did not see any action against Toronto, but an ankle sprain to Mauro Rosales opened the door for him to prove his worth in Chicago. Much had been made of his positive showings in preseason and his cameo was undeniably consistent with the up beat vibes coming out of Tucson and Portland, in large part thanks to his understanding with Octavio. It seems likely that this relationship will serve as his ticket to a regular spot in the starting eleven after having already developed a connection with his fellow countryman within the Uruguayan U17 set-up and this familiarity will be key in how Rivero adapts to his foreign surroundings. Mezquida represented a menacing threat down the right flank with a newfound confidence owed to his partner-in-crime and, should he replicate that over coming months, would appear well poised to become one of the most dynamic attacking talents in MLS. There's also more tactical flexibility with Nico in the line-up as he offers something brand new on either flank, in a modified number ten role, and even alongside his compatriot, giving him the edge over Darren Mattocks and Erik Hurtado in reserve perhaps.
Pedro Morales experienced a rare off day in Bridgeview, Illinois, failing to wreak as much havoc as fans have become accustomed to over the last twelve months, however the collateral damage that it may have caused last term did not occur to the same extent on this occasion. Instead, Rivero obliged to share the creative responsibilities and went on to manufacture four clear-cut chances, more than anyone else on the field along with Kekuta Manneh. He dropped deep into the advanced areas of the pitch that an in-form Morales would usually assume and managed to supply balls through with an exceptional range of passing, particularly profitable in counter-attacking situations where he could exploit sub-par defensive shape. This sort of contribution makes him very much a different entity to the majority of pure strikers in MLS and shows that he's able to be a decisive figure in more ways than just goal-scoring. Rivero can also drift into wider positions, beat his man, and make wicked deliveries into the eighteen-yard box too. In fact, as per the Whitecaps twitter account, he completed a league-high six take-ons out of the seven he attempted on the weekend. Multidimensional in every aspect of what he brings to the side, I, for one, am pretty glad that I don't have to face the 23-year-old as an opposing manager or defender.
Robbo commented after Vancouver's first ever away victory over the Fire that "you get your rewards in football if you put the hard work in," and if there's one thing glaringly evident about the former O'Higgins forward from the first two fixtures of the regular season it's that his tireless work-rate is an exclusive feature of his game. Playing at one constant tempo makes Rivero an extremely valuable asset with regards to pressing as it restricts the opposition's defensive unit to precious little time on the ball and also affects how assertive the goalkeepers are with the ball at their feet as Joe Bendik and Jon Busch can most certainly attest to. In a league where there is greater susceptibility to losing possession deep, this relentless energy has the capacity to self-sufficiently create goals for the young designated player. Moreover, Octavio is blessed with superb internal motivation and can remain patient when chances aren't coming his way or being dispatched into the back of the net. His shocking miss with the frame gaping seven minutes into his debut against TFC would have detrimentally played in the mind of almost every other striker in MLS, but as opposed to dwelling on the error he elected to move on and was handsomely rewarded for that with his Whitecaps account opening shortly thereafter.
It's not exactly outrageous to suggest that many results in 2014 depended on how MLS Newcomer of the Year Morales fared, notching ten goals and twelve assists as he guided the team to the postseason. This is not a sustainable model for the future for an individual with his respective attributes, however, and will not lead the Caps to the success well within their grasp in the immensely competitive Western Conference. Rivero presents much needed balance in that respect and, as his prolific start in North America would point to, holds the key to developing what is expected of the side from objective to reality. He's looked happy to take on that pressure over the last two weeks and has not needed the settle-in period that the majority of arrivals from South America require before firing on all cylinders, but by no means is that to say that there is not more to come from him. Much of that anticipation lies with how he will link-up with his captain, given the vision that is shared between the two the forecast looks remarkably bright once Pedro begins to his fulfil his direct play-making role from last year. I personally believe we're only a few weeks away from seeing this come to fruition due to the reduced emphasis on scoring for the diminutive Chilean and the increased freedom that spawns from that; a prospect that should inspire nothing but fierce trepidation.
Major League Soccer has progressed to a point where the most astute DP signings are not necessarily marquee names from Europe, with thorough scouting in South America compensating for the sort of funds required in order to attract the players plying their trade among the biggest talents on the planet in Italy, Spain, and England. Rivero is only one example of the gradual change in philosophy and collective thinking towards how best to build an MLS Cup contending outfit within a less than level playing field, but it could be his production that dictates the landscape of the market - at least where strikers are concerned - given the relatively friendly nature of his contract. In the meantime though, the fan base have an awful lot to look forward to this term with Octavio leading the line. He's everything the team so desperately missed last year and, without getting too overwhelmed with naïve hyperbole, unlocks the unprecedented for this still young MLS franchise. For that to eventuate his peers will have to improve on what they've offered in terms of finishing, however with the season so young you have to like the odds of that requisite improvement taking place in the very near future.