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An Open Letter to Kaká: Thank You from a Lifelong Fan

When I first got heavily invested in the sport, Kaká was my favorite, and I want to give him a proper thank you.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dear Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, a.k.a. Kaká,

My love for the sport of soccer has extremely strong ties to your career, and for that, I must take the time to thank you.

In the early 2000s, when ESPN first began to start airing the Champions League, there were two teams that I always loved to follow. They were Manchester United and AC Milan. I followed United because my local club in New Port Richey, FL, had very minimal ties with the club. But on the other hand, my love for Milan came strictly from the maestro, Andrea Pirlo. He was always my favorite. That was, of course, until you came along. The way you announced your presence in the 2003-04 season was incredible and got me so excited, and wanting to see more. You were so young and, for your first experience in Europe, so poised as well. Fourteen goals was an incredible number for someone who was unfamiliar to the continent. And from then on, it was incredibly obvious who my favorite player to watch was.

The way that you approached the game was always so complementary to all of your teammates. From your keen eye and ability to thread the needle with a pass, to the quick injection of pace and resiliency to get back on defense, you showed me what the model player should be. You were the total package, and I felt that every player should have been trying to imitate you.

If, as a kid, all my friends didn’t agree with that, I would try and show them all the skills that you possessed. YouTube had only just become a thing when your career was on the rise, so I didn’t have such an ease of access to show my friends and teammates how much of an animal you were, but I did always remember telling them all the stories of your triumphs at practice, and then trying my hardest to recreate your heroics, which was just impossible to do because your style of play was otherworldly, you were superhuman.

I wanted to make my friends believe, so after school one day in 2007, I invited all of my buddies and teammates to come over for the Champions League semifinal against Manchester United, and then this happened.

For the friends of mine who were oblivious to your skill, well, we could consider them enlightened. This solo effort — the 10 goals you scored throughout the Champions League — paved the way to winning the title, and the Ballon d’Or all in the same year. Internazionale may have won Serie A that year, but Kaká, it didn’t matter, because you were king of the footballing universe. You were absolutely beyond flying high. You then broke the the transfer fee record for a South American player when Real Madrid bought you for just under $80 million. Your time in Spain was up and down and then you returned to Milan, which I assumed was where you wanted to end your career, but then it all changed.

I moved to Orlando in 2010 and became an avid supporter of Orlando City in 2012 when the club made a good run in the U.S. Open Cup. I was at the Cheyenne Saloon when Don Garber announced that Orlando City would be the 21st franchise in Major League Soccer. But I thought my eyes had deceived me when I was on Wall Street during the 2014 World Cup, when you were introduced as Orlando City’s first Designated Player signing. The amount of emotions I felt overcame me, and I had resorted to tears. My childhood hero, standing no more than 50 feet from me, you had agreed to come and play in my city, for my local club. I could see you play every weekend.

I had never seen you play in person before. That changed on March 8, 2015. Not only did I see you play in person for the first time, but I also witnessed you score the first Orlando City goal in MLS, a memory that I know I will be sure to pass on to my children, because it’s not every day that you get to witness a former FIFA World Player of the Year do something amazing, and it is something I could never forget.

No matter how trying things got during your tenure in Orlando, you were always an absolute class act. Injuries, coaching changes, reduced playing time — all of the highs, and naturally all of the lows — you were always there to be the perfect role model to all of our younger talent. Cyle Larin, Carlos Rivas, Tommy Redding, and so many more all owe you a debt of gratitude because you were able to teach them everything there is to know about being a professional player.

I owe you a debt of gratitude as well. I had watched so many of your European games on TV; I had also watched you play with Brazil. But never did I imagine I was ever going to see it all in person. You reminded me how much I love the sport of soccer, and you gave the entire city something incredible to believe in during the simple times, and in the absolute hardest of times you showed the club and the supporters how important it is to be Orlando Strong, and Orlando United. You breathed life into this city and have given us an ability to show off that Orlando isn’t just for Mickey Mouse, but we are also a sports city. International friendlies and tournaments are played here now. Hell, we don’t even have an NFL team, yet the NFL still chooses to have its Pro Bowl in Orlando now. That might not have been possible without you.

From the bottom of my heart, and the bottom of the hearts of The City Beautiful, thank you Kaká. Thank you for everything.

With the warmest regards,

Mike Spillane

P.S. If you do ever hope to cross paths with the Lions sometime in the future, we would gladly welcome you back with open arms. For everything you did for this team, and this city, you are forever purple and #ForeverALion.