VANCOUVER, BC – At this point, Octavio Rivero doesn’t need much of an introduction.
The star Vancouver Whitecaps FC striker has taken Major League Soccer by storm, scoring three goals in his first four matches.
And on Thursday, he was named the MLS Player of the Month for March.
Not a bad start to his young MLS career.
So, we know he can score goals. But who is Octavio Rivero? And what makes him tick?
That’s something I sought to find out over the last little while, and conveniently, his girlfriend Maria was asked that very question in a recent sitdown interview with CTV.
It was a short answer.
“Family, soccer, me – I think – and playstation,” she said. “That’s it.”
After sitting down with Rivero and his girlfriend at Whitecaps FC’s Gastown headquarters, I’d say that’s a pretty good summary.
You’ll notice that the first thing Maria mentioned, without hesitation, is family. That’s no coincidence.
“Family for me is the most important thing,” Rivero said.
He grew up in Treinta y Tres, Uruguay, a small town with a population of around 33,000, with his mother and stepfather. Though his parents separated when he was just one-and-a-half, the 23-year-old has always remained in touch with his biological father as well.
“It’s like I have two fathers … my father and my father,” he said in English with a laugh.
His biological father is a businessman and his stepfather is a rice farmer.
Best of both worlds.
Rivero also has four little brothers – two from his mom and two from his biological father.
But as Maria (pictured right) said, it’s like they're one big family. And they’re making a visit to Vancouver this summer.
The plan is to rent a boat and take them fishing, which is one of Rivero’s few hobbies away from soccer (along with playstation, of course, and drinking mate – a traditional South American caffeinated drink).
His youngest brother, who is nine years old, wants to be a soccer player, too.
As Rivero attempted to tell me about him in English, which has actually improved drastically since he joined the team in January, he looked to Maria for assistance (her English is quite impressive).
Maria said: “You’re his hero.”
He smiled proudly.
Rivero said he’s always trying to set a good example for his brothers. That’s why he wants to go back and finish school after his soccer career.
If you can’t tell, family is always on Rivero’s mind. He talks to his parents and brothers almost every day on Facetime. And he lives with Maria in downtown Vancouver.
She’s as much family as anyone else in his life.
They started dating about two years ago after meeting through his coach back in Uruguay. Maria is from Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital city, which is about three hours away from Treinta y Tres. But they always made it work.
Rivero has a photo of Maria on each of his shinpads (pictured right) – along with a photo of a necklace that his mom gave to him. One of the shinpads says (in Spanish): “Peace and harmony represent a family’s greatest wealth.” The other says: “There are some dreams that can only be reached with feet.”
So what are his dreams?
“My objective is for us to be champions in MLS and continue my progression,” Rivero said. “This is a really big step in my career to be here. It’s a great opportunity for me.”
It says a lot about Rivero that he answered that way, but I pressed him a bit more.
That’s when he said: “One of my dreams is to buy a home for my family.”
“One of my dreams is to buy a home for my family.” - Rivero
Maria explained that his family is currently renting a home back in Uruguay. Rivero said he grew up in a “regular house with regular things” and always had everything he needed, but he wants to make sure everyone in his family – parents, siblings, and grandparents – are taken care of.
“If I do well, they do well,” Rivero said.
So what are his dreams in soccer?
Rivero stressed that he was very happy with Whitecaps FC and excited about the opportunity. But at his introductory press conference earlier this year, he also told me through a translator that: “My dreams and goals are to become one of the best players in the world.”
“In the future, he wants to be like a Suarez or Messi,” Maria added.
Rivero quickly jumped in and said: “No Messi.”
Spoken like a true Uruguayan.
CHASING HIS DREAM
Being a professional soccer player has always been Rivero’s dream.
He started playing when he was three or four years old and grew up idolizing the Brazilian Ronaldo and Uruguayan striker Dario Silva, who also hails from Treinta y Tres – though he’s quick to point out that he’s “trying to be his own player.”
Growing up, it was all soccer, all the time for Rivero.
When he was 10 years old, Rivero said he’d have games on Saturdays and when they were over he’d come back and play soccer outside with the children in his neighborhood.
“All the time, football, football,” he said.
He played youth soccer in Treinta y Tres up until the age of 16, at which point he moved to Montevideo to join the youth program of first division side Defensor Sporting.
Rivero remained in Montevideo for nearly seven years. It’s where he broke into the professional ranks with second division club Central Espanol before getting transferred to Rentistas, a first division club also based in Montevideo.
At Rentistas, Rivero really started making a name for himself. In the 2013-14 season, he scored a team-high 10 goals in 17 appearances and helped the team qualify for the Copa Sudamericana, which is considered to be the second most prestigious club competition in South America.
It’s around that time that Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson first got wind of the young striker. But the ‘Caps weren’t in a position to acquire him since they already had three Designated Players on their roster: midfielders Pedro Morales and Matias Laba and striker Kenny Miller.
Instead, Rivero was transferred to Chile’s Primera División side O’Higgins FC.
“When a player moves to a new club, the reality is that they’re probably going to spend at least six months to a year there because they paid a lot of money for him,” Robinson told whitecapsfc.com. “But I kept my eye on him.”
And he kept scoring – this time, 10 goals in 16 games.
Once Miller moved on, Robinson said there may have been an opportunity to acquire Rivero in July, but “we weren’t able to do anything.”
At that point, Rivero was Robinson’s number one target.
“But I had to be patient and wait until the end of the Chilean season and when our transfer window opened,” Robinson said. “We weren’t in a position to do it at that time, but we were in November. And I wanted to try and conclude it before the European transfer window opened because I know there was interest in him.”
So in November, Robinson made a trip down to Chile to meet Rivero and his father. The character references had been done, but Robinson said he wanted to watch Rivero play and train with his own eyes and meet with him face-to-face.
Clearly, he liked what he saw.
“He’s humble, he’s respectful and he wants to get better,” Robinson said when asked what he learned about Rivero in that meeting. “Everyone wants to play at the highest level they can, but speaking to him he understood that there are a number of ways you can get to the top. I explained the way I thought he could get there, which would be via us. He seemed to be on board with that and liked that idea … coming here and being a key piece for us was the next stage for him and the next chapter in his life.”
As Robinson alluded to, Rivero had other offers. But that meeting, which took place at the Hyatt in Santiago, “was the difference,” according to Rivero.
‘When he finished the meeting he told me, ‘Wow, the coach came to see me in Chile,’” Maria said. “For him, the most important thing is that the coach believes in you. He always tells me that Robbo is always worried about him but not for the player, for the person. ‘Octavio, how are you? How do you feel today?’ That is really important for him. He always tells me that Robbo is really human.”
“When he finished that meeting he told me, 'Wow, the coach came to see me in Chile.'” - Maria
So far, the relationship has paid off for both parties.
It wasn’t easy leaving South America, but Rivero said he's loving life in Vancouver with Whitecaps FC. Even better, the ‘Caps are winning games, three in a row, and Rivero is scoring goals. But he’s not content.
“Every day, I want more, more, more, more,” Rivero said.
More what, exactly?
“More soccer, more goals, more expectations,” he answered.
“If he scores one goal, he comes home and says, ‘Oh I should have scored two or three,’” Maria said. “It’s never enough.”
Sometimes, she said it affects his mood at home. Rivero admitted as much. But he also said: “Now I’m better,” to which Maria agreed.
It’s easy to see the two of them are always on the same page. And it’s easy to see how well Maria knows him. So I thought I’d pose the question to her: Who is Octavio Rivero?
She looked at him and smiled.
“He’s a really simple guy,” she said. “Nothing extraordinary.”
Until you get a ball at his feet.
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