Damián “Tico” Rivera ready to kick on with hometown Revs after Costa Rica U23s debut

Damian Rivera Defiance

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It’s the dream of every soccer fan: to pull on the famous jersey, step out onto the hallowed turf and play the game they love for their childhood team, in front of the supporters they once stood, sang and celebrated alongside.

One young man currently living that dream is Damián Rivera. The 20-year-old, who as a child traveled from Cranston, R.I., with his family to cheer on his beloved New England Revolution, now sports the iconic club colors as a highly-rated Homegrown player, following in the footsteps of boyhood hero Diego Fagundez.

The Revs’ fifth-youngest Homegrown MLS debutant, Rivera already has 17 league appearances, one goal and one U.S. Open Cup assist to his name for the first team, and having returned to Foxborough this week from international duty with Costa Rica’s Under-23s, now boasts more valuable experience under his belt.

Representing Los Ticos for the first time at the Maurice Revello Tournament in France, after previously lining up for the United States’ U-17s, it was a proud moment for Damián (affectionately nicknamed ‘Tico’) and his family – his Costa Rican roots hailing from his mother’s side. Facing top quality opposition in Venezuela, France, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the tournament proved a useful test for the youngster, who is now eager to kick on as he continues his development with the team he grew up idolizing.

“It feels good to be back, I’m very excited to be back at New England,” he said. “It was a pretty long trip, but a good experience. We were in Costa Rica for about a week, training with the team, working to get the chemistry we needed; then, we went to France, and I thought we played well.

“Me and my family were excited, especially my mom – her family is from San José, so we go to Costa Rica pretty frequently. I love the country so much – it’s beautiful. I like the food, and the culture there, and with family on my mom’s side, it felt like a good decision for us [for me to play for Costa Rica].

“It started off with a couple of calls with the coaches, and me and my family talked about it. We came to the decision, and we were happy. It felt good to wear the jersey for the first time. I was very excited, and my family was happy for me.

“I learned a lot, and I can use some of the things I learned and bring it back here to New England. It’s obviously a different type of soccer over there – much more physical with a lot of quality players in the teams we faced, and in our team as well. I watch a little bit of Costa Rican soccer so maybe I have a little bit [of influence] in my game – my style of play is a little more direct.

“Overall, it was a good experience. I’m happy to be back. I just want to keep performing like I have been from the past couple of games with the second team, before I left for international duty. I have to keep the level high. Hopefully, I’ll get another opportunity with the first team soon, and I’ll be ready.”

It is no surprise that Rivera’s love of soccer derives from his family connections. First kicking a ball at the age of four, he soon had sights set on carving out a career in the sport – and there was only one place he wanted to ply his trade: the Revolution.

With that ambition in mind, naturally much of his childhood was spent playing the beautiful game, and the youngster benefitted hugely from the Project GOAL initiative, which uses the power of soccer to inspire positive social change, and offer educational support to its participants. As an adult, Rivera is now involved with the Common Goal program, pledging to donate 1% of his salary back into his local community to help others to realize their own aspirations.

“I started watching soccer with my family at a young age,” he explained. “I started playing at four years old, and from there, I fell in love.

“Revs is my hometown club, I grew up watching them. I remember watching a lot of Diego Fagundez, who was the first Homegrown. I wanted to do what he did – he was a very good player, he played in a similar position to me, and I liked watching him play, growing up.

“When I was a kid, I loved scoring goals – and I still do now! I was always a forward. I was a little kid in the Project GOAL program, and I loved it there. I got my schoolwork done, and I got to play soccer as well. It’s a great initiative, and to be able to give back now is amazing.

“As soon as I joined the Revs Academy at 12 years old, I knew one day I wanted to be here in the first team. I loved the game, and I knew there was pathway at the Academy to make it to the professional level. Every day – whether it was in training or in a game – I gave it my 100% and from there, with a lot of hard work, I made it happen. I’m so happy to be here.

“Making my debut was an unreal moment for me: seeing a bunch of fans, putting on the jersey, walking up to the field … It was an amazing feeling. Then to score my first goal on my first start – when most of my family, and a bunch of friends were there watching – I was very excited!”

After savoring his first taste of senior stardom, Rivera has had to be patient in the wait for more opportunities to shine, splitting his time between the first and second teams since his maiden 2020 campaign. Sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena highlighted the importance of timing in the midfielder’s development, with the 20-year-old still on the learning journey.

Refining the defensive side of his game and increasing his physicality over the past few years, the youngster has continued to impress with Revs II, clocking more than 50 games in all competitions. As a graduate of the club’s Academy and thriving from the wealth of experience around him, he has the perfect grounding to forge a more regular first-team spot.

“From the Academy, through the system to the second team, and the first team, the idea is clear in the way they want to play,” he added. “In the past year, I’ve gotten better and better, and the coaching staff always help me.

“When I was in the Academy, they told me I have the capability of signing a professional contract – a lot comes from the attacking side, playing together as a team. I’ve worked hard, and I feel I’ve brought that at every level since joining the Academy.

“I’m learning a lot from Omar González too. He’s a good leader on the team – he gives me feedback and tells me during frustrating times: ‘Keep your head up, and play like you have been playing.’

“I feel like I’ve progressed a lot, especially in Revs IIs games. When I go down there, I do very well, and whenever I get the call for the first team, I’ll be ready. Whenever the opportunity comes, I’ll be ready to showcase what I’ve got.”