Kaká was once again the highest-paid player in MLS in 2016, paid as much for his worldwide brand and stardom as he is for his play on the pitch. He turned 34 in the early stages of the ’16 season, and the mileage on the former FIFA World Player of the Year’s legs was apparent at times.
While he lacks the explosiveness that helped make him a world-class player in the 2000s, Kaká is still one of the best orchestrators in MLS from the midfield, and he showed flashes of brilliance throughout the season as the cornerstone of one of the league’s highest-scoring attacks. Despite a second straight season without a postseason appearance, Kaká was a bit better – and more efficient – than he was in 2015.
Those aging legs referenced above delayed the start of the 2016 season for Kaká, who sustained a thigh injury just before the season opener against Real Salt Lake that caused him to miss the Lions’ first three matches. Overall, he wound up making 24 appearances on the season, 23 of which were starts, both numbers that were down from his ’15 totals of 28 games and 28 starts.
Despite missing some time with minor injuries that take a bit longer to heal at this stage of a career, Ricky was a more efficient creator for Orlando City in 2016.
He played 1,955 minutes overall (484 fewer than ’15), but managed nine goals and a team-leading 10 assists. For the second year in a row, four of his goals came from the penalty spot, where he converted 80% of his chances from 12 yards out. While he didn’t create goals for himself from open play very regularly, he flashed his dribbling ability at times, illustrated by goals like the incredible solo effort in the season finale against D.C. He was also fouled more and completed more dribbles per match, per WhoScored.com.
Kaká’s goals per 90 number went up from 2015, as did his assists per 90, which rose to 0.46 from 0.25. Combining the two illustrates the Brazilian’s uptick in productivity: He totaled 0.87 goals/assists per 90 minutes this season compared to 0.59 a season ago. The only problem was consistency, some of which can probably be attributed to aging.
Orlando was 5-0-2 in games in which Kaká scored, but his success seemed to come in bursts. He went on a mid-season tear when he scored four goals in two games (both wins) against NYCFC and Montreal, and he had a three-game assist streak in early August. On the flip side, he had a six-game run where he failed to register a goal or assist down the stretch of the season before he registered one of each in the last match of the year.
Through it all, Kaká was selected to the MLS All-Star game and named the league’s captain for the second year running.
While the aforementioned back-to-back two-goal games were impressive, Kaká’s best game of the year was his first, a 4-1 demolition of reigning champion Portland on April 3.
After City treaded water without its captain en route to five points in its first three games, Ricky’s return came with a bang and provided a huge shot of energy. After totaling four goals to start the year without him, the Lions poured four in on Portland, one of which was scored by Kaká and two more which were assisted by the captain.
His brilliant one-two with Brek Shea on the left flank set up one the best MLS goals of 2016, and he added a touch of class by passing up what would’ve likely been a second goal when he let Kevin Molino convert from the penalty spot for City’s fourth goal and Molino’s first in what went on to be a breakout campaign for the Trinidadian in his return from an ACL tear.
Final 2016 Grade
The Mane Land staff settled on a final grade of 7 for Kaká in ’16. While his scoring and assist numbers were similar, he accomplished them in fewer minutes on the pitch, and he was once again the engine that drove City’s attack to 55 goals, the third-highest total in MLS. Kaká wasn’t at fault for the Lions’ league-worst total of 60 goals conceded, which ultimately thwarted another playoff push.
It could be argued that his production far underperforms his salary, which is fair, but Kaká isn’t a standard MLS player. Much of his value to the club is as a big-name worldwide star of the sport. Kaká’s face being featured nationally in interviews on SportsCenter during the All-Star festivities while donning Orlando City gear is a perfect example of the mass exposure the club gets from his commercial value, in addition to his role as conductor of the offense.
Kaká will turn 35 in April of 2017, shortly after the start of the new season. He’ll be entering the final year of his contract, so his presence beyond ’17 isn’t a certainty, but he once again figures to be a focal point for the Lions’ attack, this time in its first full season under the direction of Jason Kreis. Kaká and Molino displayed a great chemistry with late-season addition Matías Pérez García, and that trio will be a big part of Kreis’ plans next season as the club hopes to make the playoffs for the first time.