Ten games into Orlando City's inaugural season in Major League Soccer and let's just say it hasn't gone as well as we had hoped. After Friday's meltdown loss to D.C. United many of the supporters took to the internet to voice their disapproval, to provide their own plan to salvage the still young season, or generally provide salt for other supporters' wounds.
I won't debate anyone's right to call for Adrian Heath and Kaká to leave town or for the signing of whomever the hot transfer target of the week is. That's part of being a supporter I suppose.
What I will try to do is pump the brakes a bit and give the sane among us a little faith that this club is a work in progress and that project is going as well as could be expected 10 games into the season. Early in the season, all eyes have been on Orlando's star Designated Player, Kaká.
He was the target of much ire after the loss to D.C. Rightfully so, as he had a pretty rough game -- probably his worst in Orlando purple. At times, it seemed the game was happening around him and he was just another lost tourist in our nation's capital. His passes were off, his positioning seemed to gum up the works, and he seemed to be missing that fire in his eyes he is known for.
That performance and the criticisms of him this season got me thinking. Recalling David Beckham's first few run-outs in MLS also had a few misfiring performances, I went to the archive for some statistical comparisons.
Players transferring into MLS will tell you all about how different the league is. From the differences in the level of play, the league's physical nature, and, of course, the demanding travel schedule, soccer in America is and always will be a different animal to its European cousin.
Consider the travel schedule alone -- traveling the length of Italy or the U.K. vs. traveling in the United States has differences measured in the thousands of miles. This all means one thing: there is going to be an adjustment period. The same applies with American players in Europe. Name one player who started strong in their first 10 games in a European league. Heck, name one that went over and started their first 10 games.
The second consideration I had was the unique player that Kaká is. Off the top of my head there are only two other players you could even compare with him, David Beckham and Thierry Henry. We could spend hours discussing which one of these is better.
For this comparison it is only important that they are around the same age, have a similar playing background with the world's top clubs, and are all attacking players to some extent. The only variable of course being Kaká started on a new team at the start of the season, while Henry and Beckham joined established clubs with seasons already in progress.
David Beckham's 2007 arrival in MLS was much heralded and paved the way for other European stars to make the move overseas. His first 10 league games were split into two seasons. In those first 10 games he scored once and tallied five assists. The club had two wins, two draws, and six losses, with Beckham's first taste of victory coming in his seventh game with the club.
Thierry Henry's first 10 games in MLS were in 2010. The Frenchman scored twice and assisted twice in those games. The New York Red Bulls' record in those games was five wins, three draws, and two losses. He started a mere five of those games.
Our own star Kaká's first 10 games have been on par with the other European superstars. He has started all of his games for the Lions. He has scored three goals and had one assist, while the club has been 2-5-3 during this period.
As these statistics show, Kaká has scored one more, has a few less assists, and had a similar overall club record as both Beckham and Henry. When you break down their shot attempts, you see all three players have similar numbers, with Kaká and Beckham having 20 attempts, and Henry with 26. When considering how often those shots were on goal, Henry leads the group with 12, Kaká has seven, and Beckham four.
While Kaká hasn't walked into MLS and dominated both games and highlight reels, he is par for the course 10 games into his American career. If background and level of play are any indicators, Kaká is going to have a fantastic career in MLS, just like the two European league and international greats before him.
Kaká's first 10 MLS games have also been exceptionally good when compared to the rest of the league this season. Consider the recent rankings by the soccer analytics site American Soccer Analysis. They recently polled the MLS press and front offices across the league for the best players in the league so far. No Orlando Lions made the 50 player cut, except one, Kaká. He came in first.
This points to his supporting cast -- one that is now in and out of the rehab room and still working on chemistry. The success of expansion teams is a whole different set of numbers, ones we will look at Wednesday.