As a disappointing season inches closer to wrapping up, Orlando City fans had the opportunity to say goodbye to the team’s captain on Sunday night as Kaká played in his final MLS match for Orlando City in the Lions’ 1-0 loss to the Columbus Crew at Orlando City Stadium.
Another chapter of Orlando City’s history closed on Sunday after the 35-year-old announced on Wednesday that he had decided not to renew his contract with the Lions after the season. He signed with the club on a three-and-a-half-year deal in the summer of 2014, played his first game in March of 2015, and played his final game last night.
After 75 career matches, 24 goals, and 22 assists, Kaká’s Orlando legacy will be a tough one to define, at least over the next few years, because his on-the-field success never quite lived up to what the Brazilian midfielder was able to bring the club off the field in terms of global and local exposure, tickets and merchandise sales, and, most importantly, helping Orlando City hit the ground running as a top-flight franchise in MLS.
Think about the countless casual Kaká fans that came to see him play that are now season ticket holders. That matters, too.
“Five years ago, I never, never, never thought there would be an MLS team in Orlando. I’ve been in this league since 1996, and it never would have crossed my mind that a team, a club could be here, just exist period,” said Lions Head Coach Jason Kreis on Kaká’s hand in helping build Orlando into a soccer city. “But to do as well as the club has done and show the community as they have has been nothing short of spectacular.”
Kaká led the Lions out of the tunnel on Sunday night with his two kids at his side, then during the national anthem cameras caught him in tears, struggling to keep his emotions in check on a night when it was impossible to do so.
“It was a very emotional game, so hard to play sometimes because when I was on the field a lot of things were in my mind, so it’s difficult to focus on the game,” Kaká said after the match. “It was a really, really special game, and of course I wanted to finish with winning, but with this goodbye it’s very good for me because it’s not about the result, it’s not about the things that we could change here, so I owe a lot to this city, to this club, to this staff and my teammates.”
Near the end of the match, two young kids rushed the field to hug Kaká. He complied, putting his arms around their shoulders, and walking them back to the stands. After the game, he took a lap around the pitch to thank fans and teammates, sign autographs, and take pictures. He even took photos with the media after the game.
That’s just the type of person he is: He embraces that people love him and he’s always been thankful for that and the support they’ve given him in Orlando.
He’s leaving the club on great terms. He says the door is always open for him in Orlando, but most importantly, the friendships and bonds he made with the players will last forever.
“I don’t know when, but soon I will retire, but when I do I will always have these guys as a friend and you never know what happens in the future, but this is the most important thing for me,” Kaká said. “I can say that everybody here is a friend and I don’t have any problems or issues with any of these guys here.”
The Lions still have an MLS match left this season, at the Philadelphia Union next weekend, and then will finish the year with a friendly against the Puerto Rican national team on Nov. 4. But after that, the focus will be shifted towards moving forward and beginning a new a chapter without their $7 million player.
“I think it should be,” Kreis said when asked if 2018 will be the beginning of a new era for the club. “I think it’s time for other players to now step up and take bigger leadership roles, take more responsibility for how we do, and I think it’s time for us to improve this team using the resources that will be available, and as I said it’s time to take a big step forward.”
Now, that new era begins. Obrigado, Kaká.