He comes back as a member of the One Knoxville Sporting Club, a team in USL League Two
By Dan McWilliams
Knoxville Catholic High School graduate Gustavo Rivera is living the dream of playing semi-professional soccer as he competes for One Knoxville Sporting Club, a new team playing at the USL League Two level.
Mr. Rivera graduated from Knoxville Catholic in 2010. He returned to his alma mater May 17 as host One Knoxville SC defeated the Tri-Cities Otters 1-0 on the KCHS turf at Blaine Stadium for its first win of the season.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for someone like me, being from here, to play with players like this and coaches like this who I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise,” Mr. Rivera said. “It’s a fantastic chance to just be involved in something special.”
The KCHS grad has a day job.
“I’m a sales rep for a software company, so I work from home. I go to work after training every day,” he said.
Mr. Rivera said he trains “every single day unless it’s a day after a game where we might have a day off. Every day except for Sunday, so Monday through Friday every morning,” with Saturdays being game days.
He said “it’s pretty special” being back at KCHS.
“I was not a superstar when I was here, so to be here with this level of players and coaches, just to be included in that back here 12 years later—it’s incredibly special,” he said.
After playing four years for Lincoln Memorial University, graduating in 2014, Mr. Rivera has kept his game up around his work schedule ever since. He lives with his wife, Elisabeth, whose nickname is Windsor.
“I’ve always played. I moved out to Denver to be with my then-girlfriend—she’s now my wife,” he said. “We lived out there for almost four years, and I played for a team that wasn’t at this level there. It was a Sunday Elite team. We trained twice a week, but of course I trained as much as I could outside of that. Then when we moved back to Knoxville, I heard about this team coming, and I knew I’d been training already, and so I had something even more to prepare for. I went to the tryout and took my chance.”
Mr. Rivera beat the odds, considering the number of players trying out for One Knoxville SC. He said he was surprised when he got the call that he had made the team.
“Of course. You go to the tryout. There are 100-and-something guys there who are good players,” he said. “We already knew what type of players the coaches were going to be bringing in to the team who didn’t have to try out. Just being one of those people who they’d never heard of or seen before—I knew the chances were low, but I’d been preparing and just wanted to have a good day of soccer, and I guess that they saw something worth picking me up for. Very, very surprised but very honored.”
Through 11 games, One Knoxville SC stood atop League Two’s South Central Division of the Southern Conference with a 9-1-1 record. The team has held its home games at KCHS, Austin-East Magnet High School, and Maryville College.
“I’ve always had the dream of playing at the highest level I possibly could,” Mr. Rivera said. “I really haven’t played anywhere at this level since graduating college. There’s a big gap in the level that I had from graduating and playing in college to now. I didn’t have anything in between like these guys have. I certainly never lost sight of the dream to play at the highest level that I could.”
Mr. Rivera as of the May 17 game had not made the game-day roster for One Knoxville. His status with the squad “totally depends on me,” he said.
“The coaches have made it very clear that the opportunities are up for grabs,” he said. “It’s definitely an adjustment at this level for someone like me to just be out there with guys like this and the pace and the demand that the coaches put on the players. It really depends on how I perform consistently. I think that it’s totally justified that I haven’t gotten on the field yet, but it’s absolutely something I’m working toward. There’s a lot of fantastic players up there and guys out on the field that I have to beat out to get on that game-day squad, so that’s a challenge I don’t take lightly.”