Edson Rivera's Portuguese adjustment
Never before has the opportunity for a young Mexican footballer to play in Europe seemed so realistic. From the biggest stars, to the brightest prospects, Mexican players have started to flood European rosters.
Few stories are like that of SC Braga's 19-year-old Edson Rivera from Guadalajara, who may be Mexico's most unlikely success story in Europe. Deemed a non-prospect early in his Atlas career, the striker shined in club scrimmages against Mexico's youth national teams and earned a call-up to play for his country. His development seemed to accelerate once he joined the national team structure: Rivera was Mexico's leading scorer (three goals in 233 minutes) during their third-place finish at the under-20 World Cup in Colombia this year.
Unfortunately, Rivera's signing with Braga wasn't without controversy. Though he was technically a free agent after the World Cup, Atlas officials, who believed they were going to work out a new contract with the striker, were angered they didn't receive compensation for Rivera's move, and subsequently called for his ban from the national team. No such action is likely to be taken.
Sadly, the controversy took attention from what was the most important aspect of Rivera's story -- that he is one of Mexico's most talented young strikers who may one day play an important role for the senior national team. With Carlos Vela's career in flux and with a lack of capable strikers to back up Javier Hernandez, Rivera has an outside shot of joining Mexico for the 2014 World Cup should he play well in Portugal.
Rivera for now is firmly focused on trying to break onto Braga's first team. So far, he hasn't played a game for the first team, though he's played the full 90 minutes in two friendlies.
Braga spokesman Marco Carvalho says: "In those two friendlies, Edson showed what we already knew about him -- that's he's a tremendous player. He's also a really good kid. Right now he's working to get his chance. He's working to adapt his game to a different environment. This is normal for kids who come over from Latin America ... I think he'll get his chance in January, or perhaps even sooner."
In his first at-length interview since joining Braga, Rivera talks about the difficulties of his move to top European football. Understandably, since his standing with the FMF is still a sensitive topic, Rivera didn't want to discuss his complicated move away from Atlas, nor his future with the national team.
Q: How would you describe your first few months with Braga?
A: The most difficult adjustment has been the change of rhythm, the style of play. It's a much quicker game, more competitive game than to what I'm accustomed. Players use their strength and their physicality much more.
Right now the team has taken on the responsibility of teaching me the game to put me on an equal level. I've done a lot of strength work, and gym work and I'm working as hard as I can to catch up.
Q: Has this transition been what you expected?
A: Honestly, the adjustments have caught me by surprise. I never imagined it would be so different. But that's why I'm here, to work and to live out my dream. Each day I try to make an adjustment and to learn more. If I need to stay after practice for an hour then I'll do it. The whole point is to get better and to be able to succeed in games.