As Orlando City has struggled in recent weeks, the play of star midfielder Kaká has come under scrutiny from fans of the team, and fans of the league alike.
The 33-year-old Brazilian started the season by scoring nine goals in the first 18 games. In the six matches since, he has not found the back of the net, but has set up two goals for teammates.
Certainly, the lack of production is not all Kaká's fault. The Orlando City defense has not been able to keep the ball out of its third of the field. The midfield hasn't held possession in the occasions where they have had it. Not to mention, the club has been playing a man down seemingly every single game, making it even more difficult to gain and hold possession for any length of time to get its star involved.
With all of those factors going against Orlando City, it is easy to understand why Kaká's production has suffered -- particularly his goal scoring production. Kaká has scored more than half of his goals on penalty kicks. (Four goals have come on direct PKs and one was finished on his own rebound of a penalty.)
When a team is playing a man down as often as Orlando City has this season, it makes it difficult to build up an attack to the point where you can get in position to be awarded a penalty kick.
However, given all that, it is fair to ask if the 33-year-old Kaká is running out of gas. His production isn't the only thing that has suffered. At times, Kaká has appeared sluggish on the field. In particular, in Orlando City's 4-0 loss to Seattle two weeks ago, Kaká was not making the runs we have become so used to seeing him make. At times, there were questions if Kaká was even on the field. When he did receive the ball, there were times it seemed like he might have been trying to do too much, which often resulted in a turnover.
This very well could be due to the fact that Kaká is starting to run out of gas as the season winds down. The Brazilian legend is on the wrong side of 30, and is on pace to play the most minutes in his career. There are eight matches left in the season, one of which Kaká will miss on international duty, so if he plays the 90 minutes in each of the other seven matches (which we can assume he will, if Orlando City is going to attempt to make a run at the playoffs) then the captain will go over 2,700 league play minutes for the first time in his career.
One has to wonder if it is wise to ask a player of such veteran status to play so many minutes.
One can't blame Kaká if he is running on fumes as the season winds down, given the high number of minutes and the travel involved in MLS. No 33-year-old has played the number of minutes Kaká has, except for San Jose defender Victor Bernardez.
Kaká will never admit to being out of gas, and he will continue to smile and play through all of the adversity. That's who he is, and that's why we love him. He said he will become a more vocal leader on the roster, and that may help Orlando City get out of this slump in some way.
"I think I have an important responsibility for this, to carry the team and find ways to lift the players. For me, it is a time to prepare better and be more vocal. Most of the guys are young and have never had this situation before, but I tell them that this experience is a great opportunity to learn and push through."
But ultimately, what Orlando City truly needs is its best player to get back in a good run of form.