When Pedro Morales stood over the ball in the 96th minute of the 2015 clash between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Orlando City SC, there was excitement amongst supporters, as it was a great chance to provide a deadly final action in a 0-0 game. With Vancouver being known as a solid set-piece team under coach Carl Robinson, and Morales being well-recognized for his juicy deliveries, it seemed like a goal was likely to come.
And it came, seemingly out of nowhere, as the 23-year-old Uruguayan Whitecaps striker, Octavio Rivero, launched an impressive diving stab at what was a lacklustre delivery from Morales, somehow redirecting the ball far-post past the outreached arms of MLS veteran Donovan Ricketts. Rivero, the young DP signed from O’Higgins in the Chilean 1st division a few months prior, announced himself to MLS with that goal, as it was his 3rd in as many games, giving Vancouver a new bonafide goalscorer to start 2015.
After having lost 2013 MLS Golden Boot winner Camilo Sanvezzo in a murky transfer saga just over a year prior, the Caps had a whale of a time to replace him. After a season with Erik Hurtado, Omar Salgado and Darren Mattocks, not to mention Kenny Miller, who was a great player but had his ups and downs in MLS, as striking options for a year, Rivero was seen as the next big thing in Vancouver, as his early chemistry with Morales appeared to give them a 1-2 punch sorely lacking the year prior.
After the Orlando match, Rivero continued his strong run of form, bagging goals against both the LA Galaxy and Columbus Crew, bringing his total to 5 after just 6 matches. With Vancouver sporting an impressive record with 4W-1L-1D (13 points), it had given a lot of optimism to Whitecaps faithful, as they had built a squad that was as solid on the offensive side of the equation as it was on the defensive side. With the emergence of Rivero, the continued development of Kekuta Manneh, the presence of a proper star in Morales, the arrival of Christian Techera and the reliable Nico Mezquida, it seemed like Vancouver was more than set on the offensive side of the ledger. With solid depth options as well, as Mauro Rosales, Erik Hurtado, Darren Mattocks and Robert Earnshaw having shown to be effective in spells off the bench, Vancouver appeared primed to take on the big boys of MLS, finally making that step to contender status.
But, before we delve into a look at the rest of Rivero’s Caps career, let’s take a look at what he was brought in for:
Vancouver: Receives F Octavio Rivero for Undisclosed Fee
Acquired on Christmas Day 2014, he costed a pretty penny, becoming a young DP. As a young DP, he counted less on the Salary Cap, as they count even less on the Cap than regular DPs, making him a very bang for your buck kind of signing. With Pedro Morales and Matias Laba as the other DPs, it gave Vancouver a strong spine from front to back, with Laba being among the best in his position at holding mid, while the mercurial Morales turned up with strong goal and assist rates as the heartbeat of the Vancouver attack as either a 10, or a deep-lying playmaker, complementing the finisher in Rivero.
Despite his bright start, Rivero fell off after it, scoring only 5 times in the next 28 matches, a far cry from the 5 in 6 he came out with. It would be frustrating to watch, as he would do a good job at creating shots, leading the team with over 3 a game, but would run really hot and cold, going weeks without goals. With two goal droughts of 6 games, it gave Vancouver fans fits, as they often found themselves in tight-scoring games, with the backline holding strong but the offence sputtering at key moments.
Despite the off and on play of Rivero, the Caps finished second in the West that season, only 7 points behind the Supporters Shield co-winners FC Dallas and New York Red Bulls, tied for 3rd in the league with Columbus and Portland, finishing with 53 points. Thanks to that, they got a bye to the Western Conference Semis, delivering them their first ever home playoff matches, as it was the first time they reached that stage in their short MLS history.
But, despite their strong season, mostly led by a league-leading defence, combined with a balanced attacking threat (4 players with 6+ goals), the hot and cold offence went cold at the wrong time, as they fell 2-0 on aggregate to Portland, who eventually won it all after taking out Columbus in the final. It was a tough pill to swallow for Vancouver, who had to see the team that beat them lift the trophy, with it being one of their rivals to boot.
Not all was bad, however, as Rivero played a role in one of the biggest parts of that Caps 2015 season. In August, the Caps downed the Montreal Impact in the Canadian Championship final, allowing for their first-ever triumph in the competition, also gifting them a place in the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time as well. Rivero scored the winning goal in the final, making a poacher’s run to knock in a goalbound effort from Christian Techera, after having gotten Montreal defender Victor Cabrera sent off earlier in the match, as the Argentine defender put in a rash challenge to stop a goalbound Rivero. After having been rested for all the previous Canadian Championship matches, as he ended up playing in all 34 MLS matches, Rivero’s impact was much appreciated as Vancouver took home the cup.
But, as positive as the Championship was, Vancouver had unfinished business in MLS, as the loss to Portland was a tough pill to swallow for the fans and squad alike. To try and rectify things, Vancouver had quite the active offseason, bringing in striker Masato Kudo, midfielder Christian Bolanos, winger/fullback Fraser Aird and veteran MLS targetman Blas Perez, all moves deigned to give Vancouver better MLS attacking depth. With many of the big names returning, such as Rivero, Morales and Manneh, it was expected that Vancouver would take a big leap forward, maintaining the same defensive integrity, while finding some more goals up front.
So while on paper the approach seemed fundamentally sound, it lacked execution, as 2016 proved to be a disastrous campaign. Firstly, they made two negative moves to their backline, which we both happened to look at before in this segment, by shipping out Steven Beitashour (Check that out here) and Gershon Koffie (Check that out here), and were unable to find any consistent offence, as Rivero had a shocking start to the campaign.
Despite expectations that he would bounce back to his early 2015 form, he started the campaign out slowly, failing to find the net in his first 8 appearances, as Vancouver started out with a 3W-4L-2D (11 points) in their first 9 matches, a decidedly average stat line. While it was not disastrous by any stretch of the imagination, some goals from their DP striker would have definitely come as a boost for them. With him coming into the campaign noticeably more bulky than he was the season prior, it looked like he was completely a step-off his game, and he was a shadow of his former self.
So while Rivero found a bit of form after that, scoring twice in the next 4 games, it would soon spell the end of his time in Vancouver, as he was transferred to Colo-Colo in Chile in May 2017, marking the end of a rollercoaster ride for the Caps. While he had a decent 1st season, with the 10 goals in 34 games adequate production, he will be remembered for how things went after his hot start, as he ultimately scored 7 MLS goals in his last 40 games. While his performance in the Canadian Championship will be reminisced about for a while, he will be best remembered as another streaky Caps striker that was unable to produce when they needed it most, marking an early end to his time in Vancouver.
The Caps had a forgettable rest of 2016, as they bowed out of the Canadian Championship, finished 16th in MLS with a 10W-15L-9D (39 points), scoring 45 goals (the same total as the year prior), but dropping off massively as their defence shipped 17 more goals, which meant a 14 point decrease from the year prior. While they finished off the season strong, making some noise in the Champions League, qualifying to the knockout stages for the beginning of 2017, it was ultimately a campaign to forget for the Caps.
Rivero had an improved spell with Colo-Colo, the Chilean giants, as he ended up scoring 19 goals over 46 games. He helped them to some success on the trophy front, as they won the league in 2017, as well as the Chilean cup in 2016, marking a solid two-year return. Rivero got the chance to reunite with Pedro Morales for a season as well, as the Caps midfielder joined him at the end of 2016. It appeared that Rivero was much more suited for the South American game, as their speedier game can suit strikers like him better, allowing him to pick up the chances in transition that he so badly thrived in.
After his strong run in Chile, North America came calling once again, this time down in Mexico, as he made a move to Atlas. But, much like his first go around in North America, he struggled to score, only finding the net twice in 11 games, both of them being in the cup competition. He was unable to score in all 9 league games, prompting Atlas to send him on loan to his home country in Uruguay to play for Nacional at the end of 2018.
He had a strong spell there, scoring 5 goals in 10 games in 2019, helping them finish 3rd in the Apertura season, while progressing to the knockout stages of the Copa Libertadores. He did well enough to secure another move in Liga MX, as Atlas nearly immediately shuffled him to Santos Laguna after he returned. While his time in MLS and Liga MX have certainly not been much to write home about, he has a solid career in South America, so hopefully he can find some consistency in this latest stint.
While Vancouver went up and down the 2 and a half seasons since he left, missing the playoffs in the 2 of the 3 seasons since, they at least figured out the solution to their striking woes. First it was Fredy Montero in 2017, whos 15 goals were a huge boost as the Caps made the playoffs. After, in 2018 they brought in Kei Kamara, and he did more of the same, picking up 13 crucial tallies as the Caps fell just short of the playoff picture. This year once again it’s been the return of Montero, and he’s been alright, picking up 6 goals as of the halfway mark, despite a slow start. So while there has been many question marks on the rest of the squad, especially at the back and in the midfield, they did rectify their striker problem after the 2016 season.
It’s a tough move to judge overall, as the Caps ultimately found success with Rivero, as they had their best ever campaign in 2015, but his hot and cold nature played a big role in their playoff failure that same season. They did well to get money off of him when they sold him, making it look better, so ultimately we will grade this move as a win.
Verdict: 6/10 (Could have been better, could have been a lot worse (Fabian Espiondola step on up?))