The ball was cleared away from Orlando City's penalty area and rolled slowly down the pitch toward midfield. Looking up and finding himself level with a defender 10 years younger, 33-year-old Lions captain Kaká clenched his jaw and sprinted 30 yards, racing Colorado's Lucas Pittinari, determined to reach the ball first. He did.
Although nothing came from the ensuing OCSC attack, that play was a microcosm of Orlando's night against Colorado in general, and the Brazilian superstar's efforts in particular.
Kaká was magnificent in last night's weather-delayed 2-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids. His work rate, movement, determination and lust to produce goals were as evident last night as they were lacking at Montreal on Saturday.
It was a bounce-back performance worthy of the former World Player of the Year and it caught the attention of City Head Coach Adrian Heath.
"I thought it was one of ‘Ricky's' best games in an Orlando shirt," said Heath to the assembled media after the match. "He looked a threat all evening around the goal. He made some really nice little intricate passes in and around the 18-yard box and took other people in. I thought he looked dangerous all night."
Kaká finished with seven of Orlando City's 23 shots, including four of the team's eight shots on target. Although he scored only once, the captain menaced Colorado's back line throughout the game, and if not for a bit of heroic goalkeeping by Colorado's Clint Irwin and the intercession of a goal post, the Brazilian might have easily deposited four balls in the back of the net.
"I thought he was going to score numerous goals," Heath said.
It didn't take long for Kaká to get involved. In the ninth minute, he landed a cross perfectly onto Lewis Neal's head but the midfielder directed it straight at Irwin. In the 44th minute, the Brazilian got a head to a Carlos Rivas corner kick at the near post but his strike was off target. A minute later, Kaká got in between defenders in the box and was in alone on Irwin, who made himself big and stopped the shot.
"He was disappointed at halftime because he thought he could have done better," said Heath.
Just nine minutes after the break, Kaká found some open space in the box and took a sparkling entry pass from right back Rafael Ramos. His shot beat Irwin but rang off the right post and deflected across the front of the goal mouth. The captain was getting closer.
"He had a great first touch for the one there that hit the post and went across the goal," Heath said. "He was more like the Ricky we know."
While the game remained scoreless, Kaká ran like a kid half his age, chasing down loose balls, winning 50/50 battles and willing his teammates to do the same, which they did, owning 56.9% of the game's possession.
In the 61st minute, Kaká nearly got his breakthrough, shooting hard to the back post, only to be denied by a great diving save by Irwin. The onslaught disquieted an increasingly disorganized Rapids back line and just a minute later, Rivas blazed down the left flank and fed a low, curving cross that fell perfectly for a Cyle Larin tap-in, giving Orlando City a deserved 1-0 lead.
While a team usually mobs the goal scorer, Kaká led his teammates in a sprint out to congratulate Rivas on his superb delivery.
Colorado was now forced to chase the game and it didn't take long for the Lions' captain to punish them. In the 65th minute, Cristian Higuita gathered the ball near midfield and darted down the center of the pitch. Rivas made a blistering 50-yard run on his left and Kaká hovered on the right. The young Colombian used his countryman as a decoy and fed a smart through-ball to the Brazilian on the right side instead. Kaká calmly slotted one back-post past Irwin to double the lead.
Despite playing keep-away and trying to kill the game off, the captain had another solid opportunity in the 80th minute, taking a pass from Rivas and blasting one just wide. A defender altered the shot's trajectory just enough to send it wide, but the referee signaled for a goal kick.
Nine minutes later, Rivas sent Kaká a nifty pass and Irwin made a one-handed save. It was a complete performance by the Brazilian and Heath said it's only the first sign of things to come.
"I honestly think the second half of the season he'll start to push on and he'll be everything that we know he is," he said. "That's the norm for him. That's what we've seen for the last 10 years of him."
There will periodically be games like Saturday night at Montreal, when things don't go as well. That's part of being a 33-year-old footballer. There will be games, and perhaps even a short run of games here and there, when Kaká is not sharp or doesn't look his best. But there's little doubt that when Kaká plays like he did against Colorado last night, the Lions are a frightfully dangerous team on offense.
I'll leave you with a look at the captain's distribution and shot chart from the match, just to give you an idea of the ground he covered: