In recent years, Colombia has become a hub for footballing talent. In 2014, teenager James Rodríguez picked apart some of the world’s top teams in the World Cup, finishing as the tournament’s top scorer. He moved to Real Madrid shortly thereafter. Since then, the list of Colombians playing at big clubs has grown: Davinson Sánchez, Rafael Borré, Yerry Mina, Luis Díaz, and more have all followed, with various levels of success. Right now, however, Colombian soccer appears to have stalled.
Colombia won’t be going to the World Cup this year for the first time since 2010: a huge loss for the national team. This is partially because the team’s aging core has yet to be really phased out of the side: the starting eleven on the final day of qualifiers had an average age of 27.4, with the bench at 28.6.
However, missing the World Cup isn’t always a bad thing. Look at the United States: after missing in 2018, the country reevaluated the way the league and federation was being run and turned to developing younger players (you can read more about some of those players here). As a result, the Americans will be at Qatar this winter.
Colombia is likely going to pursue a similar route and put faith in younger players. There’s one in particular who the national team shouldn’t wait long on: winger/midfielder Daniel Ruiz Rivera.
Ruiz Rivera’s Career Path
Ruiz Rivera made his debut at the age of 17 with Fortaleza, a club languishing in Colombia’s second tier. In 2020, he joined Millonarios—one of the most successful teams in Colombia—on loan, with hopes of leaving an impression on the Bogota-based club.
While Millonarios were unable to win the league—which is split into two different parts, the Torneo Apertura and the Torneo Finalización—Ruiz Rivera had an impressive campaign. He finished the season(s) with three goals and six assists, including a brace against Atlético Bucaramanga. No surprise, then, that Millonarios made his transfer permanent for under $400k.
Ruiz Rivera is also a Colombian youth international but has yet to play for the senior side.
Statistics and Comparisons
This season, Ruiz Rivera has not slowed down. In 27 games in the Liga Dimayor, he has five goals with four assists, the sixth-most assists in Colombia. He’s also top ten in creating big-chances (4th), creating chances (2nd), and penalties won (1st) per fotmob.com, while fbref.com also puts him as the league’s top crosser with a whopping 173 crosses. He also registered an assist in the Libertadores against Fluminense.
Compare him to another high-profile Colombian winger, Luis Díaz, and it’s easy to see Ruiz Rivera’s potential. Díaz’s last Apertura season to Ruiz Rivera’s Apertura season this year—the first part of the league—saw Díaz finish with fewer goals (one to three), assists (zero to two), chances created (eight to 38), and shot accuracy (41% to 62%).
Now, I’m not implying that Ruiz Rivera is better than Luis Díaz. That year, Díaz played fewer matches while his club struggled. However, I am saying there’s a lot to like about Ruiz Rivera and he has the potential to reach similar heights.
Ruiz Rivera’s Strengths and Weaknesses
In an interview in 2020 (linked here), Ruiz Rivera discussed his strengths: primarily his vision, passing, shooting, and technique. These were all accurate at the time, and they’ve reached new levels since then. His elusive dribbling and speed also make him difficult for defenders to deal with, in addition to his crossing.
Like many wingers, Ruiz Rivera does have a problem with height—he’s roughly 5’7″—a potential problem in physical leagues. He also could improve his finesse, as his shooting results in many shots on target but a low conversion rate.
Ruiz Rivera is a player with tremendous potential, and is being linked with some top leagues. Brazilian side Botafogo are rumored to be interested, with many Colombians choosing to move to Brazil to further their careers. Portuguese side FC Porto, the club where Díaz and Rodríguez both developed their careers, are also allegedly interested.
However, he has plenty of options, including staying in Colombia or taking a leap of faith and joining the MLS. Some might argue it’s not a glamorous league, but increasingly South Americans are using it as a stepping stone to bigger things.
Right now, he has to focus on the task at hand: return Millonarios to glory. The historic club hasn’t won a trophy since 2018, and if he changes that, he’ll be well on his way to stardom.
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