GUADALAJARA - By his own admission, starring at the 2011 Under-20 World Cup changed Edson Rivera’s life.
The Atlas player netted twice against host nation Colombia in the quarterfinal to help Mexico to a 3-1 victory, with his second a solo effort to beat the keeper from outside the area.
Offers from Portugal, Spain, France and elsewhere flooded in for the 19-year-old forward who hadn’t yet even debuted for Atlas in the Liga MX.
After carefully thinking it over with his agent and family, Rivera opted for Braga in the Portuguese first division.
“It was a watershed moment not just for my career but also in my life,” Rivera told Goal.com recently in a Guadalajara café.
It was also a rare example of a Mexican heading to Europe at an early age.
But before he went, there was first a battle with Atlas to get the deal done, with Rivera explaining that “the gentleman’s pact doesn’t allow you to leave,” something he feels holds up other young Mexicans wanting to try their luck on the other side of the Atlantic.
Rivera pushed the move through and turned down a contract offer with Atlas, but the European adventure didn’t work out exactly as he would’ve wanted. The forward, who prefers to play as a “nine-and-a-half” but is also comfortable on the wing, did debut in Portugal’s top division but couldn’t nail down a regular spot.
“It takes a little time to adapt,” he said. “I hadn’t debuted here (in Mexico), I didn’t even know even what it was like to be in a first team squad. I arrived there and with players of that level it is a little difficult at 19.
“Apart from being intelligent, they are very strong players, they already have experience and the speed at which they play … They play more physically over there and take advantage of that. Here it is something that doesn’t have great importance.”
In November 2012, Rivera and Atlas put aside previous problems and the Rojinegros re-signed their youth product, who, at the time, said he had the opportunity to stay in Europe but preferred to try and get minutes with his hometown club.
Since then, the now 22-year-old Rivera has begun to show the talent that had European clubs drooling into actual performances for the first team.
Few players could’ve netted the kind of goal he scored against Atlante back in February, lifting the ball over a defender with his back to the goal before turning and striking a sweet volley into the corner of the net. His tearful, heartfelt celebration was because of his mother’s death weeks before.
Arguably Rivera’s best moment of his professional career so far came in November in the Copa MX final against Morelia, even if Atlas did lose on penalties.
Rivera pulled the strings for Atlas in the 3-3 draw, playing an exquisite ball for Matias Vuoso to score the Rojinegros’ second. He showed a new kind of maturity in his play to suggest he is now ready for the next step.
Coupled with his height and increased strength, Rivera has set his goal for next season as regular minutes, with the club’s greatest attacking threat Omar Bravo having left for Chivas.
In that he’ll be helped by the return of coach Tomas Boy, who seemed to favor Rivera in his last spell at the club, which has been rejuvenated by the recent sale to TV Azteca after years of financial uncertainty.
Rivera said that despite Atlas having a reputation as one of the best youth systems in Mexico and producing many international players like Pavel Pardo, Oswaldo Sanchez and Rafa Marquez, he believes there is much to improve, although he’s hoping the money coming into the club can turn that around.
“We’re happy,” Rivera said. “I don’t want to say that before we weren’t, but now there’s security and hope that good things are coming, there’ll be economic support in different aspects that they couldn’t improve before.”
As for Rivera’s longer-term goals, the national team and a potential return to Europe are the top priorities. For now though, he remains a young Mexican potentially on the brink of breaking out in a big way in 2014.
Follow GOAL.COM on Twitter