Appearances of Orlando City captain Kaká have been sparse with the 34-year-old only taking part in half of the team's games in 2016. But Saturday night, the Brazilian star showed the difference he can make when he does play.
When Kaká came to Orlando prior to the 2015 season, there was a lot of fanfare. Upon his signing during the 2014 season, the midfielder that had moved from AC Milan in Italy was greeted by thousands of purple-clad fans at Orlando International Airport. He had a strong season in 2015, starting 28 of the team's 34 games and scoring nine goals.
But 2016 has been a different story. Kaká has struggled to stay healthy this season, which has been a problem for the Lions. He has scored three goals and tallied five assists in the 10 games that he's played, nine of which he started, but his lack of appearances has led to criticism of the player. Being the club captain and playing just half of the team's games has led some to question whether it's still beneficial to have Kaká in the team or if the Lions should just cut ties and move on. But Saturday night, the veteran showed the difference he can still make on a game.
Orlando City was dominated in the first half by the Columbus Crew. At the half, the Lions were trailing 2-0 and some would say they were lucky to just be down two. But a 60th-minute sub changed the game. That's when Interim Head Coach Bobby Murphy brought on Colombian striker Carlos Rivas and Kaká.
Immediately Kaká began to make his presence known. Just four minutes after he came on, Servando Carrasco found the midfielder deep in the Crew penalty area. Kaká was able to get on the end of the Carrasco cross, heading the ball off the crossbar. The result of the play was an Orlando City corner kick. The ensuing corner, which was taken by Kaká, found its way off David Mateos to Kevin Molino, who put it in, cutting the deficit in half.
Apart from having a key role in the team's first of two goals on the night, which gave Orlando a point out of the road contest, the Brazilian was also a general in the midfield. Down 2-0 at the half, Orlando City failed to have a shot on goal. As the game went on, despite having chances to cut into the Columbus lead, the players were undoubtedly getting frustrated.
When Kaká came on, he showed the type of confidence and patience that was needed to gain a point out of the contest. Murphy brought him on at the right time, which gave the Lions a boost when it looked as though they wouldn't get anything out of the game. But more than anything, it showed those who doubted the star that, despite his age and injury trouble this season, he can still make a significant difference for his team.
Going forward, Orlando City and needs to figure out how to get the captain on the field more often. Much of the Lions' struggles this season have been due to the lack of his leadership on the field. But, despite his frequent absence, the Lions sit in seventh and just three points out of a playoff spot. Moreover, they play the team keeping them out, the New England Revolution, next Sunday night at Camping World Stadium.
If Kaká can find a way to get on the field more consistently, there's really no reason why Orlando City shouldn't be able to get above the red line and qualify for the postseason for the first time in the team's brief MLS history. But to do so, the Lions will need their captain.