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Octavio Rivero's Understated Brilliance

El Cabeza deserves praise despite struggling in front of goal lately

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

He hasn’t managed to sustain his exceptional goal-scoring production from the beginning of the regular season, yet Octavio Rivero is one of the most effective and most unique strikers in all of Major League Soccer right now. That consistency in front of goal in the early goings has afforded supporters undue incentive to demand the same every week, and because of that his fantastic industry has been under-appreciated by most observers. Goals are the universal barometer used to measure the quality of any given frontman and for good reason too – that is what brings home the bacon after all – however it’s of equal importance to also consider how dynamic that individual is in what they offer to their side. Fans have been blessed with a combination of calculated soccer intelligence and instinctive genius with the arrival of the coldblooded Uruguayan, a talent so refreshingly diverse that Futboldemort feels that much more a distant memory. His game is so complete that even when he isn’t hitting the back of the net he contributes to a greater extent than any #9 before him at BC Place, and midway through his first year in Upper Cascadia it feels an appropriate juncture to illustrate that.

Rivero’s movement is imbued with a complete understanding of his surroundings; from the players asked to stop him to the positioning of his supporting cast. If one observation can be made without evoking debate it’s that the guy is a cerebral assassin within the final third. He is always thinking about his next step and ready to pounce when the opportunity arises – often timing his runs to perfection and able to drift between the lines seamlessly to facilitate the rest of the attack. If you’re looking for a microcosm of this then pay close attention to how he adapts to each team-mate when they have the ball at their feet. He knows exactly when to draw defenders away to create space for his colleagues to penetrate and exactly when to create an angle for himself to receive possession. If it’s Pedro Morales for example, Rivero will let the opposition abandon their shape by pressing and then capitalize on it by running into the vacated areas – the Chilean Maestro’s passing range making the move so dangerous as it affords his fellow South American the license to attack any area of the the back-line at will. If it’s Kekuta Manneh though, look for him to draw markers away from the direction of the Gambian’s dribble so as to make his job that much easier by clearing an avenue to the sticks. This will pay dividends for Manneh’s growth over the next few years as he strives towards achieving the consistency we all hope he's capable of.

That in itself may seem like a somewhat simple practise, but its value shouldn’t be overlooked. Reflect back to darker days where Darren Mattocks and Erik Hurtado carried the load leading the line, unable to accommodate others to the same degree and as a result leaving the Caps disjointed on many occasions last term. We shouldn’t have to experience that hardship under Octavio’s abilities; he has demonstrated recently that a forward’s influence can be incredibly far-reaching, orchestrating as an indirect playmaker of sorts over the last few months. Most strikers are dependant on beating keepers with regularity, without that they lose their confidence and eventually they generally lose their place in the line-up, but that isn’t relevant to what El Cabeza is doing at present. When you field an attacker that can continue to fulfil an integral role whilst enduring a barren scoring run then you’re very fortunate; just look at how the New York Red Bulls have suffered without Bradley Wright-Phillips’ form. These circumstances are very much temporary and soon enough we’ll witness a return to the clinical finishing on show during March and April, but nevertheless it’s reassuring to have that selflessness to fall back on within the more difficult periods of the campaign. For a player with his relative age and experience this particular feat is pretty rare and should develop further as the young DP's game matures into something even more complete.

Another facet to the former O'Higgins attacker's game that warrants more kudos can be found in the annotated screengrab above. He transcends conviction running towards goal, therefore demanding the attention of his opposition. Here, four RBNY players direct their efforts to Rivero, reducing the likelihood that he'll go on to singlehandedly threaten Luis Robles' goal but at the same time rendering the back-line vulnerable without protection. Octavio proceeds to shift the point of the attack by playing a surgically executed pass across to Kekuta (the blue arrow marking the trajectory), who has little work to do before unleashing a shot that narrowly misses the target. It highlights poor discipline from a team that has avoided such carelessness under Jesse Marsch's coaching, and points to an event that will no doubt repeat itself throughout the season. Moreover, the fashion in which he dropped deeper as a creative force on Saturday mitigated the absence of Morales, with #29 going on to make the assist for what turned out to be the winner from Kianz Froese. This summer, with the Blue and White facing an overload of fixtures spanning three different competitions, that creativity will reap many rewards when Pedro is given a rest. It also means that his highly touted relationship with compatriot Nico Mezquida will see more time on the pitch, and will do so to a more profitable outcome with the service ostensibly going both ways.

Counter-attacking is discussed ad nauseum when it comes to VWFC thanks to there being so many options at Robbo's disposal that excel in transition. Matias Laba can break up play like nobody else in the league, Russell Teibert is metronomic circulating possession, Morales can make an inch perfect pass to any blade of grass he likes without breaking a sweat, and Manneh is electric when dribbling at back-pedalling defenders. Every outfit has their own unique tactical identity and this has existed ever since the Welshman took the helm, however at no point did it reach this level of efficiency when Rivero was plying his trade in Chile rather than in British Columbia. In the screengrab above we see how he becomes the end target of a transition thanks to intricate and well thought out movement off the ball. The Whitecaps dispossess a Toronto FC midfielder in his own half and quickly launch forward with momentum. Teibert finds himself in a position out wide and produces a threatening delivery across the eighteen yard box right along the corridor of uncertainty. Rivero is between the two TFC centre-backs whilst Rusty manufactures room to manoeuvre his grounded cross - hardly optimal as he appears on both of their radars - yet in a matter of seconds he shuttles to the outside of the left centre-half before ghosting in behind to meet the ball in a chance that he would otherwise convert 99.9% of the time. That opportunity doesn't happen without the same calibre of nous inside the eighteen-yard box and we ought to be thankful for that.

Nobody will suggest that Rivero has the requisite speed to replace Manneh or Darren Mattocks as a pure outlet on the counter, but that doesn’t dictate that he can’t affect proceedings out wide. He is regularly seen stretching defences out of structure and has incorporated that into Robbo’s game plan to exciting results, negotiating his way through bodies with surprising strength before distributing the ball into the less congested central areas in the final third. Lately he has done a lot to help Gershon Koffie with his attacking responsibilities as a box-to-box midfielder. In the screengrab above Octavio gets on the end of a throw-in down the right channel and draws a Real Salt Lake centre-back with their left-back towards him. Somehow he succeeds in meandering his way towards the goal – showcasing some tremendous skill in doing so – and subsequently he dispatches a cut-back precisely into the path of the undetected Ghanaian. Koffie has a lot of room with which to attack and is ultimately unlucky to watch his strike cannon back off the crossbar. While Gersh has regressed with respects to his contributions going forward, the forecast appears positive with his colleague extending an invitation to exploit defensive weakness in collaboration. This has also yielded benefits for Kekuta and Cristian Techera, who are as happy to wreak havoc in the middle as they are on either flank, offering fluid interchangeability at times to circumvent a return to the dreaded predictability of yesteryear.

Scoring once in twelve appearances (in all competitions) is a very poor return and must improve if Vancouver are to keep battling at the top of the Western Conference Standings as they are today. That said, Rivero’s performances shouldn’t be overlooked when he isn’t the goal machine that everyone hopes he can be – more so at his age during his debut season in North America. Matters aren’t helped when he’s hacked to death every weekend without any repercussions for the culprits either. The lazy reputation given to him by the men with the whistle is a fitting reflection of the incompetence we have to deal with from MLS officials; the fact that professional referees rely on narratives to do their job says so much about the problem. Although I don’t expect this piece to convert his skeptics into believers on its own, I hope those of you that remain unconvinced can regard him more objectively in looking at his superb all-round game. El Cabeza will do everything underlined above when he rediscovers his shooting boots and will continue to do so when he finds himself in this current predicament again. As frustrated as he has found himself as an isolated figure on the road, when the Caps typically retreat deep to absorb pressure, he is always giving maximum energy to the cause. He will press keepers and centre-backs from the first minute until the last and won’t give up on his objectives at any point. Appreciate what he’s doing for the team at the moment rather than chastise him for what he isn’t and you’ll feel that much better when Octavio ultimately storms up the scoring charts again.