Rivera’s growth key as Wolves prepare for crucial Cleveland visit

In quest of redeeming themselves from last week’s 1-0 defeat at Dayton Dutch Lions, FC Buffalo men’s team responded with a 5-2 win over Kings Hammer FC to begin Saturday’s rainy doubleheader at Robert Rich All-High Stadium.

Although head coach Sean Hallas’s team went down a goal four minutes into the match, FCB once again pulled off another comeback win against KHFC. Ashton Jell and Ander Castillo combined to give Landon Hungerford an equalizing goal in the 19th minute. The Wolves’ momentum shifted, creating opportunity after opportunity, though the ball couldn’t get past Chad Smith’s net. 

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But to give his team a crucial 2-1 lead four minutes before halftime, Buffalo State University forward Diego Rivera capitalized on his first start with the blue and gold by providing his first assist of the season. Rivera delivered a 30-yard pinpoint chip pass to Castillo inside the penalty area, and the team’s leading scorer nodded the ball past Smith. 

[ RELATED: FC Buffalo men fall in Dayton ]

“It was a very special moment, and I was very happy with my performance,” Rivera said after Monday evening’s training session. “I was just waiting for this chance to showcase what I have and can offer.” 

For any avid FCB viewer, Rivera’s assist to Castillo stands as one of the best assists of the 2024 USL League Two season. The East Meadow native, raised by his Brazilian father and Salvadorian mother, talked about how he could pull off the eye-popping assist. 

“Playing with Ander [Castillo] up top makes things easy. All I have to do is pass him the ball, and I know he will finish it,” said Rivera. “I like to play with a little bit of flair, and it just comes naturally. That [assist] was just something that came naturally to me.” 

[ RELATED: FCB men claim fifth home win in five-star triumph over Kings Hammer ]

The Buffalo State 2023-2024 Male Athlete of the Year finished last season scoring 14 goals and four assists for the Bengals. However, adapting to a new team can present challenges, especially in a fast-paced USL League Two. 

“Initially, when I first came here, it was challenging to adapt to the quick play style that the coach liked. The speed at this level is higher. But it’s been great once I got that all down.” 

Rivera credits his head coach, teammates, and energetic fans at All-High Stadium for helping him get comfortable with the blue and gold.

“It’s been fantastic and amazing [his first months with FCB]. The coach’s trust [Sean Hallas] helps a lot, and I love my teammates,” Rivera said. “The fans are amazing, and it’s something new compared to where I played last year. Everyone on our staff is devoted to our team, and that’s what’s important.”

As one of the few players competing in Division III soccer, his unmatched mentality allowed him to finally earn his first start after weeks of working hard during all his training sessions. 

“It’s all mentality. Coming in here [with FCB], I knew I was one of the few D3 players. Being new to the area, not that many people knew who I was, so showing what I can do and my skills is just a big motivator.”

Although competition is inevitable with the numerous talented forwards on this 2024 FCB roster, Rivera still appreciates sharing the locker room with his supportive competitors. 

“The competition is always there, and we mess around with each other, but at the end of the day, whoever gets the start, there are no hard feelings, and we just support each other,” Rivera said. “On Saturday, Calum [Newson] was the biggest one to say, “Hey, do what you got to do. You know what you can do.” It’s all love in the locker room.” 

As Hallas said after Monday’s training session, “It’s make or break for the season.” The Wolves, now 4-3-2, bringing them third in the Valley Division table, have their sight on clinching a top-two playoff spot if they win their final three games, two of which stand at All-High Stadium. 

FCB’s final crucial three-game stretch begins tonight with a 7 p.m. kickoff at All-High when they face Cleveland Force for the third time this season. The last two matchups between both teams ended in a 5-3 scoreline, beginning with a 5-3 loss at Cleveland and then a 5-3 win at home. 

A win tonight can move the Wolves to second in the table with 17 points, surpassing Cleveland by two points. 

Rivera enters this evening’s match in great form and understands that a starting spot is not guaranteed. Still, he is confident in his ability to build on Saturday’s performance and help his team during this season’s final stretch. 

“Not trying to do too much, and just do what I know I can do,” Rivera said when asked what he’ll work on to keep his momentum. “My best qualities are one-on-ones and scoring. If I am put into the position to score, I believe that I will finish it no matter what, and that’s just the confidence I have in myself and my teammates have in me as well.”

[ RELATED: 2024 Men’s Stats ]

Single-game tickets are available here, while for a limited time, you can get a season ticket to all men’s and women’s regular season games for just $60.