Friday’s MLS SuperDraft in LA was an almost silent affair for Orlando City, which had no picks in either of the day’s two rounds. The Lions may have played around with the idea of trading up, but in the end said they were content with staying put.
The Lions were, however, the conversation of some draft-day trade chatter, with Goal.com reporting that Minnesota United, which joins the league this season led by former Orlando City boss Adrian Heath, was making a strong push for Orlando’s two-time USL MVP, Kevin Molino.
The club was quick to shoot down those rumors, telling the media that Molino is not for sale, despite Minnesota reportedly making a “sizable offer” for the Trinidadian midfielder.
Budalic: We are definitely not actively shopping Kevin Molino. He's a big part of our plans next year & a very valuable member of our squad.— Alicia Rose DelGallo (@OSAliciaD) January 13, 2017
Minnesota is not in the wrong for at least trying to pry Molino away from Orlando, where he’s been since Heath brought him to the club in 2011, and Orlando’s certainly not in the wrong for turning down whatever offer Minnesota apparently offered up.
Paul Tenorio mentioned on a radio appearance earlier this off-season that only three players on the Lions’ roster are completely “off limits” this off-season, and there’s reason to believe, based on what Jason Kreis and company have said this off-season, that Molino is one of them, alongside likely Cyle Larin and, of course, Kaká.
Molino has been a nice talking point up to this stage in the off-season. As we famously know by now, there’s really no telling what Kreis will do this season with the formation. He’s talked about being flexible and using a range of different formations — 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, etc. — and it ends up being the 4-4-2 diamond more often than not. As some expect, there have been questions about whether or not Molino’s work ethic is a good fit for the diamond, which relies heavily on the midfielders being able to drop back and contribute on defense. That’s not something Molino is well known for.
But it sounds, as of now, that Kreis is still very high on his potential and is willing to work with him through this transition period.
From an overall club perspective, I’m absolutely glad that Orlando City was quick to shut down the rumors of teams bidding for Molino and that he’s not up for sale, because he shouldn’t be.
Molino, behind Larin and maybe Kaká, is arguably the most important player on the team, and a piece that Orlando City must be prepared to build around in 2018 when Kaká presumably leaves the league and goes back to Brazil or wherever. Molino’s 11 goals and eight assists — coming off a season that included just eight league games because of a torn ACL in May — is no fluke, and that kind of production is not easy to come by in MLS. The midfielder’s genuine talent was a critical difference maker for the Lions in a year when Kaká was also sidelined sporadically because of injuries.
Up until his injury in 2015, Molino was among the league’s top chance creators, and that production left an obvious hole in the Lions’ attack for the rest of that season. You could probably make a compelling case to say that Orlando City would have been a playoff team in 2015 with a healthy Molino.
The big sticking point in Goal’s report on Minnesota and Molino was that the Trinidad and Tobago midfielder is also unhappy with his current contract situation and is looking to cash in on his production — whether it’s with Orlando City or not. Molino made $121,400 in 2016 according to MLS Player’s Union figures from September, which was a certainly fair number at the time of his contract, given that he hadn’t yet proved himself in the league. Now that he has, he should get the raise he deserves.
Could the Lions wait until 2018 when Kaká comes off of the books and opens up a DP spot? It’s certainly possible. The Lions could also go ahead now and throw some of the extra TAM they have lying around to keep him happy. It’s not like they can’t afford that. But they certainly can’t afford to give up one of their best players just yet.