Diego Rubio “fills big shoes” and rises to Sporting KC challenge

When Sporting KC made the shocking trade of striker Dom Dwyer, all eyes focused upon the next guy on coach Peter Vermes multi-tiered depth chart. The spotlight didn’t faze Diego Rubio, though.  He is used to trying to fill the shoes of players who have come before him, beginning with his father, Hugo, who played nearly two decades at the Chile senior level, including nine years on the National Team.

Hugo was a big influence on Diego and his older brothers, Eduardo and Matias, who are also professional soccer players.

“When I was young I started to see all his (game) videos and I started to love (soccer),” Diego said. “In South America, soccer – futbol for us – is almost everything. So, all the brothers started to play soccer, and me and my brothers followed him to every place that he went. He was our idol when we were young.”

Even with his brothers still in Chile and Diego thousands of miles away, the Rubios remain close and lean on each other.

“We always looked to help each other,” he said. “When (Eduardo) needs something, I am always there, and when I need to speak with someone after a game or something’s happened, we always speak to each other and we have a really good relationship.”

His family was helpful, too, when Diego first went away for international duty, joining Sporting Club de Portugal in 2011 when he was 18.

“That was amazing,” he said. “That was a really good experience. I always say that everything that happened to me in the past helped me to be the person I am now. I can say that it was a little bit difficult to go at 18 years old. I tried to live alone. My parents wanted to help me there, at the start. I said, ‘let me live alone first,’ to see what happened. I can say that I always need them. They went there for like three or four months to help me with food, living, everything. It was a really good experience, a really nice club, a really nice country.”

After two years in Portugal, Rubio spent time with clubs in Romania, Norway and Spain before signing a loan deal with Sporting KC to start the 2016 season.

Rubio was eager to make his MLS mark, but was a sparsely-used sub behind Dwyer, the club’s leading scorer.

“It’s about experience,” he said. “When I was in Europe you could see that you’re not always playing every game, so you need to focus and work by yourself. My father told me ‘they pay you to train; they don’t pay you to play.’

“So, you need to come here and do whatever you need to do to train, to show the coaches that you are interested to be there. That’s something that I learned from my father and from other players that I saw. They always had great attitude.  And I think hard work pays you.”

Diego Rubio was further challenged when a torn ACL ended his season in October.

“It was a hard time for me,” he said.  “I can say that it was difficult because I was ready to go to the pre-season with the team at that time.”

Confidence from teammates and from Vermes helped him remain patient during his rehab.

“I think all the players helped me a lot,” Rubio said.  “Peter spoke with me and gave me confidence all the time.  He said: ‘You’re going to have your spot, no problem; you need to recover good.’ So, every time I think about coming back faster, I think (instead) I need to come back and be stronger than before, because I don’t want to lose time when I come back, to re-injury.”

Ike Opara’s recovery from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in 2015 inspired Diego Rubio.

“(Vermes) told me stories about Ike, about when he came back, how he had strong a mentality and everything,” Rubio said. “I just wanted to come back, not even 100 percent. I want to come back 200 percent. I worked hard. I try to work on patience. Some days you come here and you say ‘oh, wow, I want to be there.’ I want to train and that makes you crazy. But, family and stuff, they make you be patient.”

He didn’t make his 2017 debut until June 17 in SKC’s 17th game of the season.

A month later, Dwyer was sent to Orlando City SC and Diego Rubio became one of the club’s primary attackers. Rubio was ready for the opportunity.

“I’m not surprised at all,” he said. “I work every day to train. I work every day to be there. You can play or you cannot play. You have two choices and that’s the choice of the coach. If you’re ready to play, you’re going to be less surprised than if you are not working hard, you know.”

He has stepped up to the challenge, with four goals and two assists in five starts since the Dwyer trade, and SKC is 4-0-1 in those five matches.

Meanwhile, Dwyer has netted two goals and two assists in seven starts with Orlando.

Diego Rubio has especially clicked on Sporting’s revamped front line with wingers Gerso Fernandes and Latif Blessing.

“You feel like you are important for the team,” he said. “You feel amazing that you can come in and play and make good things for the team. It’s a good feeling. You come to the game, you can score goals, you can help the team, you can run. This is something that people don’t realize, you can be ten months injured and you think, every day, if I wasn’t injured I could be at least a part of the team; I could at least be there.  So, now, I enjoy every minute, every second more than before.”

Diego Rubio has also helped the team in another way.  He recently got his green card, which permits him to live and work permanently in the United States, and also opens up an international player slot on the SKC roster.

“It feels good,” he said.  “It’s about confidence from the team. They wanted me to be a part of this organization. It’s all about that. I’m so happy that they trusted me and give me the opportunity to have a green card.”

For more coverage of Sporting KC visit http://kcsportspaper.com/category/pro-teams/

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Article by Marc Bowman

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