Orlando City had plenty of high hopes for Kevin Molino heading into the 2015 MLS season. The two-time USL MVP was coming off his best season yet after shattering the third division's goal-scoring record, and a new-found connection between himself and the club's superstar, Kaká, in the preseason led many to believe that something special could be on the horizon in 2015.
But just seven games into his first MLS campaign, Molino tore his ACL in a friendly match against Brazilian club Ponte Preta, effectively ending his season. It was a loss that left a lingering effect on the Lions for the rest of the season.
As Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath notes in this Q&A with the Orlando Sentinel, Molino's presence on the team just could not be replaced:
"I knew that we were losing a player that I thought could've been the MVP of the league, so that tells you what esteem I hold Kevin in. And you could just see that relationship with Kaká developing where he was taking more things on himself. That was a huge blow for us. Because no matter who we brought in and we've tried a few there and they've all done manfully well, they just weren't Kevin."
Molino only played in seven MLS games for the Lions before suffering the season-ending ACL injury, meaning there's not much to break down when you look at the stat sheet. Although he had yet to score an MLS goal, and only recorded one assist in 605 minutes, Molino was one of the league's best passers and chance creators leading up to his injury, averaging 2.1 key passes per game according to Whoscored.com, with a successful passing percent of 80 percent.
Starting in all seven of the games he appeared in, Molino finished with 14 total shots -- only four on target -- and most of those came in the final few games before his injury. Early on, while his partnership with Kaká was showing well, you could tell that the confidence to take shots when presented with opportunities was still lacking, as he only attempted three shots in his first three games. The timing of the injury is what hurts most, because even though he hadn't scored, you could tell his confidence was building and that first goal was not far off.
It's kind of hard to pick Molino's best game of the season, considering he played in so few. But since we're in the market to decide these kind of things, the April 12 game against the Portland Timbers, at Providence Park, might be his best in MLS yet.
It was the game in which he recorded his first and only assist, crossing a ball off of Cyle Larin's chest for the Canadian rookie's first career MLS goal. It was Molino's last game playing the 90 minutes before the injury, as he recorded three total shots -- none on target -- three key passes, and an 80.1 percent successful passing percentage. Whoscored.com gave him a 7.8 rating for the match, third highest on the team in that game, and his highest of the season.
(Also, note the nice hustle in the video below of Molino running up to pressure the Portland defense and grab that fumbling ball)
Assuming Molino makes it to and through the preseason healthy, and given plenty of reps, one can't help but think he'll be expected to finally have his breakthrough MLS campaign in 2016. Molino's loss seemed to affect Kaká the most, who was excelling well with the Trinidad and Tobago international alongside him, and having him return should only mean good things for the Lions.
ACLs are no laughing matter when it comes to injuries, and considering Orlando City will spend almost an entire full season on the Citrus Bowl turf, it'll be worth watching how he and his surgically repaired knee react to the surface.
All things considered, a successful season for Molino would be scoring somewhere between 5-10 goals while recording about five assists. And while more production would be nice, of course, I think that's about where he'll finish in 2016.
Final 2015 Rating
We at The Mane Land have no way to grade Molino's season as anything other than incomplete, given the small sample size of games. However, like your 12th grade trig teacher, whose class you always failed the tests in, we're going to also grade this one on a curve, and give him a 6.5 out of 10. If 6 is average, Molino was slightly above average in his seven games. Convert a couple of those chances and he would have been an easy 7.