In March of 2011, Orlando City SC, a new team in American soccer’s third division, brought in a young, 20-year-old Trinidadian midfielder named Kevin Molino. The skinny boy from the Caribbean island was a widely unknown player from a small team in a tiny country but would end up having a huge impact on a team that would soon become a big club in MLS.
When Phil Rawlins decided to move his nascent USL team, the Austin Aztex, to Orlando in 2010, it was a move that was questioned by many. The overall consensus was that a professional sports team could not make it in Florida. Over the next four years, Orlando City would become a staple in the Central Florida community. And while the locals took a liking to the club and the sport, it was the success on the field that filled the seats.
In its inaugural season in 2011, Orlando City made a statement by winning the USL double, taking home the Commissioner’s Cup as regular season champions and the USL Pro Championship, defeating the Harrisburg City Islanders on penalties. Over the next three seasons in USL Pro, the Lions would win two more Commissioner’s Cups and the 2013 USL Pro Championship.
Molino quickly became an important figure at the club as one of then-head coach Adrian Heath’s go-to players. After a strong 2011 season, Molino was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2012. Alongside Jamie Watson and Dom Dwyer, Molino was a focal point of the 2013 team that, despite finishing second in the league, would win its second USL Pro Championship.
On Nov. 19, 2013, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced Orlando City as the league’s latest expansion team in front of a packed Cheyenne Saloon in downtown Orlando. Less than two months later, on Jan. 10, 2014, the club announced that it had signed Molino to an MLS contract, making him the club’s first official MLS signing. It was a statement signing as Molino had reportedly been offered a deal by the Seattle Sounders, one he turned down to remain in Orlando.
In his final USL season, Molino went out in style. The Lions cruised through the 2014 regular season, starting the season with a 19-game unbeaten streak. The 2014 season would be Molino’s best, setting a new league scoring record with 20 goals on his way to his second USL Pro MVP award.
A very quiet person, Molino made his mark on the field and it was one that will forever be remembered in Orlando. While many love the sport and would’ve still flocked to the Citrus Bowl to see the Lions, their immense popularity was largely due to the success they had on the field, accumulating five trophies in four seasons. As an important figure in the team for all five of those trophies, Molino was a leading figure in the popularity of the club that resulted in its entrance to MLS.
When Molino asked to be traded and was subsequently dealt to Minnesota United, it was a harsh blow for many Orlando City fans. Molino was the last member of the team to be around when the club was announced as an MLS expansion team. And many thought he would spend the remainder of his career in the City Beautiful. So it’s nearly unthinkable that Molino will not be wearing purple when the club opens its new stadium on March 5.