Daniel Ríos is no stranger to scoring goals. Nashville’s first-ever MLS signing has been a serial goal scorer wherever he’s been.
At the USL Championship level, he became the first (and currently only) player to score 20 or more goals in consecutive seasons after finding the net 21 times for Nashville SC in their final year in the second division. Prior to that, he bagged goals for North Carolina FC in the U.S., as well as Coras and Zacatepec in Mexico’s lower divisions. And in his first season in MLS, Ríos finished as Nashville’s joint-top scorer with five goals in just under 1,000 minutes.
Fresh off his MLS debut season, Nashville awarded Ríos with a new contract, keeping him in the Music City until 2022, with a further option for 2023.
“For all sorts of different reasons, it’s very pleasing that we’ve been able to get a new deal finalized and we’ve got Daniel here for the future,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “In terms of what he brings to the team, I believe his finishing ability is as good as anyone, if not the best in the group. He’s more than capable when he’s in and around the penalty area. And he’s a fantastic character, and if you look at the type of locker room and identity that we’re trying to develop, Daniel is a very very big part of that.”
As Nashville’s attack came to life down the stretch of the season, Ríos also found his form. The former Mexican youth international scored the winning goal in Nashville’s upset victory over Toronto FC, taking the first-year club to the MLS Eastern Conference semi-finals.
“The goals that he scored and the way he lead the line and was capable of achieving at that [USL Championship] level was far, far better than the standard that he was playing at, and we’re seeing that now in MLS,” said Smith. “My only hope is that we haven’t seen the best of him, and I’m sure that’s the case. He’s not even into his prime yet. I’m looking forward to Daniel really getting to grips with MLS and getting into double digits.”
Nashville’s early struggles to score were well documented last season. Certainly the expansion team had plenty of issues off the field that compounded their attacking issues on the field, and they began to find their rhythm down the stretch, scoring 12 goals in their final seven regular season matches.
“Last year was a good year, difficult for us because of the pandemic and an expansion team, but the work was good,” said Ríos. “This year will be better, and that’s what I’m hoping for.”
With new attackers like CJ Sapong and Rodrigo Piñeiro brought into the fold, Nashville are hoping some of their early struggles in the final third are well behind them. For Ríos, the path to playing time is a crowded one. He’ll need to beat out challengers like Sapong, Jhonder Cádiz and Dom Badji for every minute he gets.
“It’s more competitive this year,” said Ríos. “My plan is always the same. I have to prove myself on the training ground and in games, and the best way to prove it is to score goal. The second thing to do is whatever Gary asks me to do and whatever the team needs me to do, defensively and offensively.”
As far as his personal ambitions for 2021, Ríos was blunt.
“I have my goals for this year. I hope that I can score more than 10 goals this year.”