The afterglow from Orlando City's win over the LA Galaxy last week is now keeping many fans optimistic for collecting three points today over the other California team, the San Jose Earthquakes. The Monday morning quarterbacking of "how did we do it" is still going on, with everyone weighing in with their opinions, including a cute little piece by Lions communications staffer Jhamie Chin about superstitions around the Orlando City front office.
But if we really want to look at the "what was different" and dissect and parse out the "X" factor, we have to look to the figurehead of the team, the captain, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite (aka Kaká).
One thing was different in the game against the LA Galaxy that everyone was able to notice but no one has seemed to put into words: the Lions were finally organized as a team. There were straight lines on defense and in the midfield that looked textbook and contributed to everyone knowing their job and everyone playing their line. Including Kaká.
Having had the opportunity to speak to members of the front office and to hear Head Coach Adrian Heath in training since the outset of the season, there is a lasting impression that Kaká is fervently passionate about getting Orlando City to the next level. I believe it. His emotional pregame speech to his teammates before the New York City FC game, which was published online, is a small insight into the passion this man feels for this team.
His display of love for Kevin Molino last week by donning his jersey after his successful PK which brought the Lions to 3-0 against the Galaxy was another clue, and made many hearts, including mine, swell for our Brazilian leader.
What made the LA Galaxy game different was one word: trust.
Frustration with Kaká had been building in recent weeks, with soccer pundits like Tyler Twellman finally making the call before the LA game, wondering if Kaká actually had what it took to lead the team to a win. And then an impressive showing on the field by the captain, who actually let his teammates play their positions, demonstrated that Kaka didn’t need to try to run the field all by himself, and he didn’t need to be everywhere at once.
Trusting his teammates to stay in formation, to pass the ball cleanly, and to make the charging runs toward goal, Kaká was a different player and set a different tone for the team. By trusting his teammates to do their job, Kaká stopped trying to be everything to everyone and slotted himself into the supporting role that was his destiny all along.
It’s probably a mixture of nerves – playing with such young players who were relative strangers before the season started – and a need to prove that he was worthy of the honor of being Orlando’s marquee player. It’s easy to see how Kaká would be nervous for his fellow teammates and, from that perspective, re-watching replays from those first few games, it all makes sense in that context.
But now Kaká has relaxed, or been told to relax. He now trusts his teammates to do their job. And as a result he can do his own, really really well, and prove to everyone that Orlando City is a team to be reckoned with going forward.