David Ousted and Matias Laba are two of the most gifted players to ever put on a Whitecaps jersey, but beyond their individual quality they have become indispensable to head coach Carl Robinson for their remarkable consistency. Other Caps of similar pedigree have failed to offer the same reliability since Robinson took the helm, ambivalently inspiring delight and despair from fans as they themselves have alternated between brilliant and bizarre. That speaks more to Ousted and Laba delivering the goods with such frightening regularity though, which in contrast to their mercurial colleagues increases in its outstanding nature.
As a result of this constant production Ousted and Laba have reached near untouchable status among a fanbase more fickle than Salvatore Tessio. They have enjoyed the benefit of the doubt on the rare occasions where they haven't delivered on the expectations they've exhaustingly set for themselves; garnering encouragement for displays that others around them would likely be chastized for by the hyenas located in the press box and the stands. Moreover, the deserved sense of belief in subpar performance representing an exception to the rule when it comes to David and Mati has definitely contributed to the way they've instantly regained form afterwards.
This is an example of where the much preached #SupportIsAlways moniker isn't as ironic as it feels when this group of players occasionally face adversity. We are fortunate to possess guys like Ousted and Laba, and while they ply their trade inside BC Place it's our duty to make them feel valued in return for being so dependable. However this practice of loyal patience isn't universally based on merit and its ugly counterpart, the distribution of blame after disappointment, isn't remotely objective. The treatment of Octavio Rivero has demonstrated this fluctuation between faith and scapegoating over the previous twelve months rather aptly.
In this instance it would be harsh to cite an inherently capricious approach to following the team as the sole reason for why Rivero's strengths are widely under-appreciated and why his flaws are greatly exaggerated. It must be acknowledged that a large percentage of this supporter community has only taken an active interest in the sport in the five years since the Caps entered MLS, and even some with pre-existing exposure to the game, through other allegiances, have a more passive interest in the fairings of the Blue and White. This is still very much a growing market, albeit one that has accelerated with the sophistication yielded by Robinson's appointment in 2013.
Media coverage, along with the quality of the product on the field, is integral to that market growth. The demographic relatively unfamiliar with soccer yet eager to learn more rely on the readily available content they consume to help form not only their opinions on the Caps, but also their philosophy towards the game at large. The platform extended to writers and analysts is heightened immeasurably when there is so much scope to shape and align their audience's ideology with their own, and that's really the crux of the issue in Vancouver. The opportunity to inform is so great that squandering it has collateral damage so detrimental it will take years to undo.
Nobody has suffered from the collateral damage more so than Octavio; beyond being misunderstood, his efforts have been criminally neglected in the majority of articles and on-air rants that have circulated since his impact on games distanced itself from goal-scoring. Hard work is a small part of what he brings to the table, but it's an attribute that normally transcends narratives and numbers. Rivero has tirelessly endeavoured to better himself and his supporting cast and he's spent swathes of time without the same industry returned by that same assortment of players, leaving him isolated or estranged from more ideal positioning. All of which to little or no acclaim.
Then again, it's much easier to just throw out a statistic about Rivero's goal-scoring with no form of contextual reading beyond the same recycled narrative that you need more from your first choice #9 in MLS. It's not going to earn you a Pulitzer, but it requires zero effort and it sparks discussion throughout an audience who consequently subscribe to the same method of thinking. What more can you ask for in 2016? Never mind that Octavio has been the best thing that's ever happened to Kekuta Manneh, or that he's regularly exhibited a matured competence years beyond his age in areas that many strikers fail to master after decades of honing their craft.
Rivero's conducted himself with rugged perseverance throughout months on end of this, and the fact that he's negotiated his way through so much scrutiny is something that should encourage those who have been in his corner through the supposed dark days. In Jorge Mendoza's exclusive interview for Daily Hive Vancouver, Octavio admitted that what he read on social media got into his head but now he's happy to remove himself from what others are commenting, and his confidence "will not be affected by a journalist who says one thing or another who says another another thing". In trademark fashion, El Cabeza was given lemons and made lemonade.
One of the biggest misinterpretations concerning the former O'Higgins frontman relates to his on-field chemistry with compatriot Nicolas Mezquida. It's implied that Mezquida's presence makes Rivero 'better', which I suppose is a convenient correlation for those inclined to subtract as much responsibility for success from the more maligned of the two whenever possible. In actual fact, it's much more complex and reciprocal than the conclusion many have reached. Why the pair have been so effective in collaboration obviously has a lot to do with their relationship off the pitch as well as their understanding on it, however it really comes down to a reallocation of resources.
Think of the Rivero-Mezquida relationship - and how it dictates the team's collective approach to each game in which it features - as the small ball death line-up employed by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA; the former celebrated for its energetic properties, the latter for its unprecedented ability to stretch the floor. When used sporadically it can reap spectacular results and therein lies its value as a device to achieve tactical flexibility. We saw this pay dividends on various occasions last year, and in his third season on the job Robinson is becoming increasingly adept at rotating his squad to fulfil different needs. This will only continue to improve down the line.
It's worth noting that when Rivero makes it easier for others to wreak havoc offensively he frequently does so at the expense of his own opportunities. You could argue that this is counter-intuitive and the amount of time the Caps have spent with a stagnant attack over the last year is indicative of that. There was a certain degree of necessity for Octavio to be so selfless last term however, insomuch that without goal-scoring he needed other means to remain a starter. With Pedro Morales rarely able to dictate the tempo as he had done in 2014 Rivero applied his skills less reliant on confidence to assist with build-up play at a point when his side really needed it.
Having a 23-year-old striker during his first campaign in North America serve to this end was not optimal - it's mainly why the Caps experienced their aforementioned attacking struggles last year - but without Octavio doing that the outcome would have been much worse. Pedro's renaissance deeper in midfield and the introduction of Christian Bolanos have largely negated the same need for Rivero to make these sacrifices now; presenting a much healthier dynamic for all parties involved as it will spare the maligned Uruguayan from a fatigue perspective whilst allowing him to do more in the final third and add even further dimensions on the front foot.
As he adapts to this unfamiliar reality the attack should reach unprecedented levels of efficiency and Rivero should look like the player Robinson has always known he can become; a terrifying combination of the six-in-five goal source he was last spring and the same facilitator of good things for his peers he's always been. There's a lot of work that has to be done before we can speak in those terms, but it would be the ultimate reward for patience and faith as well as the ultimate demonstration of why coaches must abide by those values. There is nobody who appreciates Rivero's utility to same extent as the man who brought him to Vancouver.
In a recent mlssoccer.com piece that for some reason transcribed the quote without even attempting to utilize it, Robinson said that Rivero "never went away" among the collective sentiment shared by most reporters that his striker hasn't done anything since he last enjoyed a similar run in front of goal last March and April. His instrumental effect on proceedings has been no different to that of the revered Ousted and Laba with regards to its significance, and his manager knows that better than anybody. The Whitecaps don't have another option who can do everything that Octavio does, and it would be difficult to find a like-for-like successor through external activity.
This is why, even if the higher ups had hypothetically worked out the parameters for a deal, Robinson would have never signed off on the reported trade offer exchanging Rivero for Kei Kamara. Not only is Kamara a less valuable asset - his acrimonious departure from Columbus, and their willingness to shop him midseason, is so blatant a red flag that Laremy Tunsil would be proud - there's so much invested in Rivero that to even consider abandoning his development at BC Place is crazy. Rumoured interest, emphasis on rumoured, from his homeland is pretty much redundant without Robinson receiving a Godfather offer too. You can't just give up on a talent like this in MLS.
Over coming months, the expression of exasperation we've grown accustomed to from Rivero should, for the most part, become a thing of the past. It's a tantalizing prospect to think about how this team could operate once Rivero and the back-line fully adjust to the newfound balance in midfield created by Bola and Pedro, as well as how other tested combinations progress too. There's so much we don't yet know about what he can be, and that's the main incentive to be excited about Rivero's future in Vancouver. He already has the club willing to ride or die with him - and I suspect most will feel the same way soon once the narratives shift appropriately.