On March 18, 2011, a little less than a month before kicking off its inaugural season, Orlando City SC signed 20-year-old Trinidadian midfielder Kevin Molino. Over the next four years, he would become the star of the USL Pro side, winning two league MVP awards and helping the team to three league titles and two championships.
On Jan. 9, 2014, the club signed Molino to an MLS contract, making him the club's first MLS player. Heading into the club's inaugural MLS campaign in 2015, he was expected to be one of the club's marquee players, along with Brazilian international Designated Player Kakà. But on May 2, Molino suffered a torn ACL in a friendly against Brazilian side Ponte Preta.
After spending nine months off the field, Molino was finally cleared to play during preseason. And he quickly returned to being the player he was prior to his injury. Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath slowly helped his star midfielder gain fitness, allowing him to play more and more as the season drew nearer. On Friday night against the Chicago Fire, Molino played 90 minutes for the first time since his injury.
Two games into the 2016 season, Orlando City has gained just two points. It's a disappointing start considering they have had a man advantage for much of both games and have enjoyed a majority of the possession. It's a curiosity that the Lions have struggled to gain three points while having such advantages. But, while not completely the reason for their early struggles, one thing has been noticeable. Molino hasn't been on the ball very much.
At times during the first two games, fans have seen glimpses of what Molino can do. He's quick, usually has a good first touch, and often plays faster than anyone else on the field. In the weeks following his arrival, it became clear that Kakà had a favorite player to have alongside him -- Molino.
On Friday, there were times when Molino was on the ball and making a difference in the Lions' attack. But more often than not, the ball went to the right side with Adrian Winter. Part of that is because teams are more focused on Molino and attempting to push the attack away from his side. But the Lions are also acquiescing quite a bit to that tactic.
Another factor in Molino not being involved is the absence of Kakà. With the 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year on the field, teams will be much more focused on stopping him, allowing Molino more possession. But while the captain is out, the Lions have to find a way to get their star midfielder more involved. The team is much more dangerous when he's controlling the attack.
If Kakà returns Friday when Orlando City heads north to take on New York City FC in their first road game of the year, this could become a moot point anyway (although he's not expected to be ready). The Brazilian's presence alone would get Molino more into the play as the opposition would be much more worried about Kakà. But even if he makes an unexpected return on Friday, at some point this season, whatever the reason -- be it international duty, injury, or even suspension -- Kakà will be absent again, and if the Lions are going to gain much needed points in those games, they'll need their 25-year-old Trinidadian talisman on the ball.