With Cyle Larin breaking onto the scene in Major League Soccer with a successful rookie campaign in 2015, it has become expected that the young Canadian would be called up regularly for international duty. So when Larin was called up for service in Canada's upcoming matches in early September, no one was surprised.
There was a bit of surprise, however, when Brazilian international Kaká was called up to the Seleção for upcoming friendlies against Costa Rice and the United States. Brazilian manager Dunga opted for experience over youth in selecting Ricky over Liverpool's Phillipe Coutinho, but in the process he set up Orlando City to play a potentially critical match without two its two most important players.
While Kaká and Larin are with their respective international sides, Orlando City will be traveling to New England on Sept. 6 – playing in the same stadium where the USMNT will face Brazil just two days later.
In order for the New England match to truly be crucial in Orlando's continued quest for the postseason, the Lions need to secure three points tonight against the Chicago Fire at the Citrus Bowl. Although OCSC's playoff chances have taken a considerable hit during their skid since July 4, the Lions are indeed still fighting for a chance at the postseason in their first year in MLS, but anything less than three points this weekend would put yet another dent in those odds.
So before Larin and Kaká head out to play for country, their club could very much use a big outing from the pair against the Fire.
While Kaká has scintillated at times this season with nine goals and four assists, he hasn't put one in the net since the Fourth of July draw at Real Salt Lake, and he hasn't registered an assist in his last three matches (although no one has, as OCSC has been shut out in that run).
Likewise, Larin has been largely anonymous recently for the Lions after a two-game, five-goal assault against New York City FC and Columbus Crew SC had it looking like he would obliterate the MLS rookie goal-scoring record. Almost a month later, and Larin is still sitting on a tie for the record with 11 goals, while Orlando's lone goal since that blowout of Columbus came courtesy of Luke Boden in the first of two embarrassing losses at the hands of Toronto FC.
It would be a big help for the Lions if their star duo turned in a stellar performance on Saturday night as a send-off before embarking for their countries, and a repeat of their last league meeting with Chicago would be a welcome sight for City fans at the Citrus Bowl tonight.
On that night in early June, Orlando City came away with a full three points after an exciting 3-2 win at Toyota Park. Kaká completed 88.4% of his passes on that evening from the center of the park, while it was Larin who turned in a magical strike late in the game to key the Orlando comeback win. The Lions were benefactors of a pair of Chicago own goals, but those were manufactured in part by efficient ball movement and 10 key passes as a team that put the ball in dangerous positions to force errors by the Fire defenders.
The upcoming match at New England – who sit six points ahead of Orlando going into the weekend – will be challenging enough already, but the fact that Larin and Kaká will be absent will only add to the level of difficulty. While it would be nice from an OCSC perspective to see the captain go the Michael Bradley route, the pride of representing one's country cannot be understated for any player, much less for an icon like Ricky from a nation which loves the game as much as Brazil.
But while he and Larin won't be available in New England, the two departing Lions can do their part to make sure that match remains meaningful by spearheading a three-point performance tonight against Chicago.
The season may depend on it.