‘Sergio is a special player’: Former WashU men’s footballer joins MLS
Former University of Washington men’s soccer player Sergio Rivas is operational in the Major League Soccer NextPro league after signing a professional contract with St. Louis City FC in mid-February. A Minnesota native and member of the WashU Class of 2023, Rivas joins a legendary list of former Bears who have been able to play their respective sports professionally, such as Dal Maxville and Don Lenhardt.
“I was thrilled for Sergio,” said men’s soccer coach Joe Clarke. “Yes, disappointing for our team. He’s a big player to lose, but I think everyone’s really excited [for him]. Everybody wanna see how far [they can advance], what level they are able to play and how much their game will progress as they enter increasingly challenging training environments. So I’m really happy.
St. Louis City FC is a new MLS franchise that is set to begin competing in the league in 2023. As part of his contract, Rivas joined the St. Louis City SC 2 roster in the MLS NEXT Pro Premier League, a MLS development league. which aims to produce the best football talent in North America.
Rivas’ contract comes after an impressive junior season with the Bears, where he helped the program capture its first all-time SAU title in 22 years. After missing his second season to COVID-19, Rivas left everything on the court for the Bears in a season that also saw them record their first NCAA playoff victory since 2015.
Post-season awards also recognized his accomplishments: he was a First Team United Soccer Coaches All-American and a D3soccer.com All-America winner. He also led the Bears to their best season in more than a decade, going 13-3-1, and ranked second in the conference in total points (21) with 8 goals and 5. passes.
Rivas was delighted to be offered a professional contract. Still, it wasn’t an easy choice to skip her senior year at WashU; Rivas remembered that was the hardest part of the process. Embracing WashU’s collegiate-champion culture, he wanted to prioritize his academics just as much as his professional career. “I would say the hardest part of the decision was figuring it out with Joe. [Clarke] and my parents on how to balance school and soccer,” Rivas said. “I certainly didn’t want to just drop out of college. I had many conversations with [Clarke] and my parents, [and] I found a solution where I could do both soccer and school and it worked so far.
“[The contract] was very well deserved,” said junior forward John Daniels, a former Rivas teammate. “He’s such a humble and hardworking guy, [and] coming out of high school, he was not a five-star recruit. [What he did] just goes to show that if you have the right mindset… things happen.
Rivas made a significant impact during his brief tenure with St. Louis City FC. Since signing his contract, he has played 16 matches with his new team, including five as a starter. In those 16 appearances, he netted twice, tied for 6th in the team, and had one assist. In only their first MLS NEXT Pro league, the team sits in second place behind Tacoma Defiance, the Seattle Sounders’ reserve team, with a single point separating the two.
Playing with Roman Burki, a former goalkeeper for famous German club Borussia Dortmund, Rivas managed to continue playing the game he loves so much on a professional level. But as exciting as the new experience was, Rivas notes that playing for a college team was hugely different from playing for a professional football team.
“It was very different. We travel, like flights over four hours. We are traveling five weekends in a row right now. So it’s definitely a lot more than what I was used to last year,” he said. “You have to be smart about using your time when you’re flying. It’s more of a time commitment. »
It’s not just the time commitment that’s different from college, as Rivas also noted that the pacing of the game is very distinct as well. “Everyone you know is going to shut you down. So just the overall higher level of play [means that] you really have to always perform at your highest level,” he said. “The game is going so fast. You will only have half a second to make a decision. You have to react to every play. If you lose a ball, you press right away.
Thriving in one of the toughest environments a football player can compete in, Rivas has plenty to be grateful for, and men’s football organization WashU tops the list. Joining the team in the summer of 2019 as a rookie, Rivas prioritized the team, with no professional career prospects.
Reflecting on his two seasons with the Bears, Rivas shared his deep gratitude with everyone on Team WashU for helping him get to this point. From Coach Clarke, who was instrumental in finding balance in his life. To his teammates, with whom he was able to share the pitch for two years.
Some things are just bigger than us, and Rivas’ professional career with St. Louis City FC is an event that goes beyond himself and his accomplishments. For him, having signed a professional contract says a lot about the work done by Clarke and his team.
According to Clarke, Rivas’ contract was an asset in his staffing process. “So many times the prospects we talk to, in the back of their minds, are always hoping they’ll get the chance to turn pro. In previous years most of the time it cost us a player because they didn’t want to give up on that dream, and I wouldn’t blame them for it,” Clarke said. “But now I think prospects are going to look at us and say, ‘You know what, it’s possible. an excellent education and there is an outside chance that I could have a chance to play professionally.
Rivas is in a place many can only dream of: playing football as a professional athlete. But according to him, he is not finished yet. While the city of St. Louis is expected to start competing in MLS in 2023, Rivas wants an MLS contract next.
“Right now we don’t have an MLS team. I think all of us in the team really want to be in that first team, to get an MLS contract,” he said. “I really want to be part of a team that has a positive fun culture and plays at the highest level possible.”
Described as a super humble and down to earth guy, the WashU men’s soccer team lost a competitive contributor in Rivas as they prepare to defend their UAA conference title
“Sergio is a special player and I don’t think a single player can replace [him]. He just plays with such precision that he is that type of talent,” Daniels said. “But it’s going to be guys stepping up. It will be people like me who take that extra step this year.
“[I’m] very confident with the arrival of our first year class. Sophomores, juniors, are taking that step again,” he continued. “Everyone is going to have to work a little harder, focus a little more on their game, and we’re excited. We still have phenomenal pieces in our team, difference makers, guys who can score goals. So it’s a loss [to not have Rivas]but we are still excited for the season.