Quick, when's the last time that the Colorado Rapids had a superbly talented and feared points-producing presence in their midfield?
No, it wasn't when they had Mehdi Ballouchy, go away.
Anyway, it's been a while since there has been a go to guy in the midfield to produce points. Though he played on the right hand side more than anything, I'd say that Terry Cooke was the last big midfield threat that the Rapids had in recent years.
The past few years under Gary Smith, there really hadn't been a need for one. The team preferred to go for a rigid style of play that played through the wings, putting it up to the onrushing full backs from the wings to the corners where they would launch balls into the box for the strikers to put away. Through his mediocrity Ballouchy did actually have a good number of assists while with the team, but most of them came when he was roaming the field to get the ball toward the wings, as the system wanted.
Hilariously, Ballouchy's roaming might have been one of the reasons that Gary Smith got rid of him a year and a half after inheriting the team. In other words, he was playing too much like a 'true #10' player to fit the rigid style of play that Smith preferred.
Now, the Rapids have a new system and needed another guy like Ballouchy (ideally a far, far better version of him obviously) to take over the now vacant central attacking position. That player is Martin Rivero, and he has done his job about as well as we could have hoped so far.
For a 22 year old to be thrust into one of the most important positions on a team looking for offensive flair is always a tough go. Add in that Rivero is learning to work in a brand new country in front of a fanbase with immensely high expectations and you've got some
I personally waxed lyrical about his first appearance with the team against the Chicago Fire, though with the caveat of small sample size. Indeed, his next two games were nowhere near as good as the Chicago game proved he could be; the Rapids scored no goals against Salt Lake or Seattle in those matches but Rivero still put up decent numbers in the passing game.
Looking past those two games, which were stinkers for the entire team in both cases really, Rivero has earned at least a point per game in his other four appearances.
A 'true 10' midfielder, which is what Rivero has been billed as from the very beginning, is supposed to be able to roam the midfield, have an immaculate touch on his passes and corners and most importantly is supposed to put points on the board. Strikers are usually based on the goals they score, but a player like Rivero should be judged on point totals. A season when a guy like Rivero scores 10 goals with two assists is less impressive than a season where he has 15 assists but only two goals.
Fortunately, Rivero has shown us that he can be a point per game man on his best days, and his points are coming in plenty of different ways. I suppose that's the 'creative' part of 'creative attacking midfielder' that we've always heard about. He's had a 40 yard launch and two beautifully taken corner kicks for assists along with a well placed low shot to the corner to score his only goal. In short, he's done what it says he does on the tin and that's a good thing for a Rapids team that was in dire need of services (pardon the pun) like him.
If Rivero was 29 years old or so, there would be a lot less fanfare about the guy and the play that he has put up. However, Rivero is still 22 years old and has plenty of room to grow. If a 22 year old is getting .67 points per game right now while still learning how the MLS game works, how will he be after a year or two of growth? He's even shown a willingness to be a tough talker on the field, putting words in when tackles happen and referees make bad decisions. It's been nothing but good news for Rivero, with only his injuries on turf being a cause for concern so far.
In a few years, he might have the stuff to be a star in Major League Soccer and perhaps even a team captain in the vein of Cooke or Pablo Mastroeni. They still haven't signed him to a true non-loan deal, but if his numbers stick the way that they have been recently, they might want to get on that so that Rosario Central can never snatch him back.