Mexican forward Daniel Rios has scored eight goals and notched two assists for North Carolina FC since arriving on loan in preseason from Chivas de Guadalajara. | Photo courtesy Rob Kinnan / North Carolina FC
CARY, N.C. – North Carolina FC’s debut in the USL this season has been marked by numerous ups and downs, but the play of Mexican forward Daniel Rios has provided a consistent bright spot for the side and put the 23-year-old into the type of spotlight he was hoping to claim when he arrived on loan from Chivas de Guadalajara this preseason.
Having set the goal of recording 15 goals this season for NCFC, Rios is already halfway to his target as he sits tied for third in the league with eight goals this season. Named to the USL Team of the Week on Tuesday after his two-goal performance earned North Carolina a 2-2 draw with defending USL Cup champion Louisville City FC this past Saturday, Rios is hoping his play this season can serve as a jumping off point for bigger things in the future.
“I want to play in Major League Soccer. That is my goal,” said Rios. “I am happy, but I want to achieve more goals and have better performances from myself for the team. The way I can do that is by scoring more goals, so I will keep looking for that.”
With the pedigree that comes from coming through Chivas’ youth academy, and as a former member of the Mexico U20 National Team, Rios has been looking for a breakthrough moment professionally since he signed with the legendary Liga MX club in 2015. After spells in Ascenso MX with Deportivo Tepic – better known as Coras – and Club Atlético Zacatepec, he’s now getting used to a different style of game in the United States as he continues his personal development.
“Everywhere I play, I have to develop my game,” said Rios. “It doesn’t matter if I’m here or I stayed in Mexico, I have to develop my game. Every game I play here, I learn from different types of players because the game is played differently in Mexico. I have to learn, adapt, and develop my game.”
The individual development Rios is aiming for is something North Carolina Head Coach Colin Clarke has seen up close since Rios’ arrival this spring. Having also recorded two assists to go with his eight goals, Rios has played a role in half of North Carolina’s 20 goals in 14 games this regular season, a testament to the importance he’s assumed in the club’s revamped squad.
“[He] gets himself in good spots, and when he has chances he hits the target,” said Clarke. “He’s getting better. I think he’s improving on his runs and what he’s doing in the box. He’s not as static as he was when he first got here. He’s been smart with those runs. He’s a good player, good kid, loves to score goals.”
“He’s been great for us scoring so many goals,” added NCFC midfielder Steven Miller. “His work rate, his desire in the box. He’s such a smart player. He gets in good spots and he’s a great finisher. He’s exactly what you want in a forward. He also works hard defensively and is just a great person off the field as well, so you can’t help but to root for a guy like that.”
For his part, Rios is enjoying life away from the field in North Carolina as well. Living outside Mexico for the first time, he’s making the most of the chance to interact with the club’s fans out and about in Raleigh and share time away from the field with his teammates.
“It’s a good city and a nice place to live,” said Rios. “I like the people here. The supporters are great. I like some of the restaurants in downtown Raleigh. It’s a different type of food compared to Mexico and I like to try different things. We hang out at the pool a couple of times a week. It’s a different lifestyle than in Mexico and I am enjoying my time here.”
But while there’s time for relaxation away from the field for Rios, as the halfway point of the season arrives with NCFC sitting six points out of the postseason places he’s well aware of the task that awaits him and his teammates to be past of this year’s USL Cup Playoffs.
With that standing as the greater barometer of whether the club’s first season in USL can be considered a success, Rios wants to do as much as he can to drive the team up the standings, starting this Saturday against the Richmond Kickers.
“We have to win a lot of games,” he said. “That’s the important thing. Winning games will help us move up the table and hopefully finish as one of the eight teams in the playoffs at the end of the season.”