FLEMING ISLAND – Just 16, Wilfredo Rivera may be the best soccer player to come out of Clay County.
Rivera was born in Puerto Rico and he spent much of his childhood living there. It was a very formative time in more ways than one, but nothing surpasses the love of soccer that began there all those years ago.
“I was 4 years old when I first started playing soccer in Puerto Rico,” Rivera said. “My mom put me in soccer because I was always a hyper kid. I wouldn’t stop running around so she figured why not have me do so on the soccer field.”
What began as a way to let Rivera expend his energy quickly grew into something more and now, 12 years later, he’s one of the top prospects in the Orlando City SC organization.
Rivera’s family moved to the Fleming Island-Orange Park area when he was 7, and he immediately began playing soccer. The move wasn’t a time for him to take a break. It was a time for him to hone in on his developing skills. He played junior high soccer for seventh and eighth grade but when he joined the Development Academy for soccer, he wasn’t allowed to participate in high school soccer.
“It’s a league around the U.S.,” Rivera said. “It’s about six conferences made up of the best teams from each state and we all play against each other. There are playoffs and a championship game at the end of each season in San Diego.”
Rivera remembers local coaches telling his parents that if he stuck to the sport, he would have a bright future in soccer and so that’s exactly what he did. His abilities were eventually noticed by some teams in Orlando and when he was 14, he moved in with a host family.
He’s been there for two years, and he currently is on the Orlando City B squad. He’s been playing for that team for about nine months.
“I actually moved away two years ago because I was recruited by Orlando City,” Rivera said. “They wanted me to play on one of their seven teams. They said I could board at school and go to school there at Montverde Academy.
“It was definitely pretty tough but I talked to my parents about it and they were with it all the way. My dad said that if it was a benefit for me and my future, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. He wasn’t mad or sad about it because he knew it was something I wanted to do.”
It’s certainly paid off because he was selected second in the Top 10 Orlando City Homegrown Prospects just two weeks ago. He’s also been named one of the Top 50 Soccer Players in the High School Class of 2021. He also played for the youth-17s national soccer team for Puerto Rico in 2019, something both his grandfather and father did during their soccer days.
“It was such an honor and it was so great to see my family there,” Rivera said. “It brought back a lot of memories and it was cool to go back to where all of this started for me.”
Rivera contributes a lot of his success to his time playing in the Clay County Soccer Club.
“They were the ones to truly believe in me first and they were the ones that guided me through most of what this has become and what it is now,” Rivera said.
Still just a minor, Rivera sees soccer in his future for many, many years to come. He said it’s possible because of his love of the sport and the support unit he has surrounding him.
“To be honest, it’s the sport itself. I don’t know how to describe it,” he said. “It’s a special feeling I get when I play the game and it’s unreal knowing that I can do this for a living, doing something I love every day for the rest of my career. I want to thank my family for being so supportive through all of this. It’s such a blessing to have someone like them alongside me in this journey.”