INTERVIEW – Fans of MLS will be searching for their fix currently given it is an international break. Nations League is around the corner with the USMNT coming fresh off of an impressive friendly victory over Morocco. Matt Turner was in goal in that one and kept a clean sheet. He and Adam Buksa may be out in New England now, but there is a new generation coming through too. I got the opportunity to speak to Damian Rivera one-on-one about breaking onto the scene, his love for Barcelona and much, much more.
Damian Rivera Discusses His Love for Barcelona and Lionel Messi
His Ambitions and Inspirations in Sport
Speaking to the older players currently playing in New England, they cite idols before my time. The same can’t be said for Damian Rivera though with the Revs man having always admired Lionel Messi. “I grew up watching Messi a lot. That was my favorite player, and it still is. And you know, I was watching him at a young age.” Going beyond the Argentine and it appears that he is a big fan of Barcelona in general: “I liked to watch Ronaldinho as well. I think he’s a very skillful player and he kind of plays the same position as me.”
Remaining in the Catalan region of Spain with their greatest ever player and Tico sounded him out when asked about the ideal teammate: “definitely Messi. If he was here I think he’d be unstoppable here, he’s, for me, the best player in the world and the best ever.”
🇦🇷 Lionel Messi has now got 46 G/A in the 45 finals he's played in his career! 🐐 pic.twitter.com/X7JNlHKiTQ
— SPORF (@Sporf) June 3, 2022
“My dream as a little kid was always to play for Barcelona, but you know, it doesn’t have to be Barcelona. Any team in Europe, it is a dream for me” was Tico’s response when asked about his ambitions to follow in the footsteps of figures such as Matt Turner and Tajon Buchanan.
How Things Could Have Been Different for Damian Rivera
Interestingly enough, things could have ended up very differently for Damian Rivera. Whilst he has burst onto the scene in Boston, soccer wasn’t the first sport he tried his hand at. “I started playing actually baseball, right before kindergarten, for like six months maybe a year. And I didn’t like it. So then I tried soccer and I fell in love with it at five years old. I still love it to this day.”
Damian’s inspiration also remains in the constraints of MLS though, in the form of an ex-Revs man. “Growing up in the academy, I looked up to Fagundez, he was a first homegrown and he was very successful here… I used to go to, almost all of the Revs games when I was younger and I used to look up to Diego, you know, he came from the academy and I wanted to kind of be like him.” Diego Fagundez is currently bossing it in Austin under the tutelage of Josh Wolff.
Tico’s Involvement with Project Goal
It is easy to forget that footballers are anything else but that. They all have their own things going on away from the spotlight and Damian Rivera, in particular, has his mind set on giving back to those that have helped him to date. Project Goal is about pairing education with football and pushing the pair as both being important. “We foster academic and social accountability and responsibility ultimately defining and producing compassionate and conscious community members” is the official line from their website.
“It is a program I used to do when I was about 12 to 14 years old… It was a program that will help you with your school. And then after you do your schoolwork, you can do soccer as well.” Focusing on Tico in particular and he passionately exclaimed that “[the] program got me into a private school, a very good school and ever since then, I’ve always been involved with project goal.”
From football for good participant to MLS player…
— Common Goal (@CommonGoalOrg) August 26, 2021
Having made it to the professional level himself, despite still being very young, he is repaying that faith: “to go back and see the kids and how the programs doing is really nice… We went through some drills with the kids and stuff like that, and signed some autographs after. So it was nice to go back there.”
Darius Shirzadi was cited as a major influence by Tico, his involvement with Project Goal, stretching back to 2002. He also has a history with the Revolution as the former director of Latino and Cape Verdean Community Affairs at the club. Rivera is from Cranston, Rhode Island and that is where he does all of this work alongside Project Goal.
Life Away From the Field for Damian Rivera
As was alluded to previously, a focus of this interview with Damian Rivera was surrounding his life away from the sport for which he is known. The ideal way to wind down for Tico, in his own words, is as follows: “I like to spend time with my family. I have a little brother. we spend a lot of time together playing FIFA and things like that. Also, spend some time with my girlfriend and just chill, play FIFA most of the time or go out with friends.”
On the note of playing FIFA with his little brother, Tico’s go-to team is “probably PSG. For sure. You know with Messi, Mbappe, Neymar it’s unstoppable.” This again feeds into his love for Messi.
Athletes are known for sticking to strict diets but everyone loves a cheat meal here and there. A favourite of Damian Rivera is “Chick-fil-A for sure. For my cheat meal, I get fries and chicken nuggets from there.” The Rhode Island native also gave a shoutout to his mum’s cooking, before pointing out that he himself is not particularly effective in the kitchen.
Damian Rivera has risen to prominence in the Revolution ranks over a short period of time. Along with being a big fan of Messi, he is someone with big ambitions and is giving back to his community in Cranston.
Photo Credit: New England Revolution.