After years of anticipation and months of preparations, Orlando City SC took the practice field and met the press for the first time. This was the first chance for Head Coach Adrian Heath to take a look at new signings, draftees, and long-time Orlando players. All eyes were on star signing and Designated Player Kaká. Notable absences included midfielder Brek Shea, forwards Bryan Róchez and Cyle Larin, and defenders Tyler Turner and Conor Donovan.
Under cloudy skies at the club's Lake Sylvan training facility, Heath took his team through the paces. His trademark shouts were present throughout. Kaká trained like a professional, seeming to enjoy the ball at his feet and his new teammates. Forward Pedro Ribeiro looked especially crisp in front of the box, while veteran keeper Donovan Ricketts looked solid between the sticks.
The session was active and seemed to serve as a good introduction. Heath wrapped up practice and seemed impressed with his first look at the unit. As he said, this is his 37th pre-season, but the one he is the most excited about, adding that he woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep.
"It's a great first day," Heath said. "It's like the first day at school. Everybody's apprehensive. Everybody's a bit nervous, but once you get on the grass you get back to normal. For me it's particularly satisfying because I've spent the last five months sitting in an office, watching videos, or traveling the world, looking for players. So, it was just nice to get out doing what I like to do best, which is working with players."
After practice, the multinational media in attendance was treated to a host of press conferences. First up was Founder and President Phil Rawlins and CEO Alex Leitão. Wide grins dominated the day, as Rawlins faced the press after seeing the team complete its first MLS practice.
Rawlins spoke to how the team will fit into the culture of Orlando, which he considers "a hip city" and great place to live. In terms of players being added, he mentioned that the team was still looking for some help in the central defender position. Newly crowned CEO Alex Leitão met the press for the first time and seemed at home in front of the crowd. He spoke mostly to his relationship with Kaká and the process of bringing him to Orlando.
It was a light-hearted coach Heath who took his place in front of the assembled media next. He seemed satisfied with his first look at his players, but honest in knowing the team has a long way to go to build the cohesion they will need to compete at the level he expects this season. Echoing Rawlins, Heath expects to make the play-offs this season. He did take a joking exception to Kaká's assurance the team was ready to win a championship.
Next to face the media was Kaká, who showed his trademark humility in an extended Q&A session. Predictably, the international media members in the room made their presence known, as the former FIFA World Player of the Year answered questions in at least three different languages and faced questions from at least a half dozen international news sources.
He spoke of his long-time interest in coming to MLS to play and how Orlando City's front office made this the place he wished to play. He brushed off any notions of retiring anytime soon, and seemed primed and ready to make a long and successful career in Orlando.
Following the larger press conferences, individual players were made available for smaller breakout sessions. Overall, a few themes dominated these conversations.
First and foremost was the presence of a player like Kaká. Another was the process of coming to Orlando and integrating with the team during their first practice. Finally, questions came about the dark cloud looming with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement on the table between the player and MLS.
Free Agency seems to be the most important point here, with player representative Tally Hall stating that without it in a final agreement, the players would strike. All of the players seemed in total agreement and well-informed on the meetings going on presently between the player's union and MLS.
In the end, despite those concerns, the players and the coach all seemed eager to get on the field and practice. The Mane Land had seven staff members on hand, so look for a lot a content from today's media event in the days to come.