Kaká’s final year with Orlando City was an unfortunate end to a great run in purple. At 35 years old, it became obvious that he had taken a step back from even his former form with the Lions. He couldn’t see the pitch as much and when he did, the instances of genius were fewer and farther between. The offense could no longer revolve around the former Ballon d’Or winner like it had for the past two seasons as injuries and age finally caught up.
The Brazilian still managed to be a major piece, however, even in his fewest minutes played in the last three seasons. His five assists were tied for the team lead and he finished second in goals, with six.
Kaká had to watch from the stands as the Lions blew the roof off Orlando City Stadium to start the year after a hamstring injury sidelined him just 11 minutes into the season. His 18 starts out of 23 appearances and 1,564 minutes were all his lowest totals in Orlando.
The captain still managed to make the most of his time on the pitch, even if it was apparent that his consistency was waning. He bagged six goals without even attempting a penalty, the most he has scored from open play in a season for Orlando City.
Believe it or not, Kaká was actually more efficient offensively this season than he was in Orlando’s inaugural MLS season per 90 minutes played. While there was a significant decline from 2016, when the skipper managed an incredible combined 0.87 goals/assists per 90, he still managed 0.63 this year (compared to 0.59 in 2015) without scoring from the spot, which accounted for nearly half of his totals in previous seasons. Kaká’s 1.4 key passes per game were also an improvement over 2015, though his passing accuracy dipped from 82.3% to 79.2%.
His six goals on just 31 shots also represent his most effective conversion percentage. It helped that he bagged a few world-class strikes, notably a stunner in the club’s first match in Atlanta and some tremendous skill against Sporting Kansas City.
In fact, because eight of the Brazilian’s previous 18 league goals came thanks to opportunities from the spot (with another off a rebound from a saved penalty), his 0.35 goals per 90 minutes is easily the most effective Kaká has been scoring from open play in his time in Central Florida. He wasn’t scoring in bunches to pad the stats, either, with just one multi-goal game this season — his longest stretch of appearances without a goal or assist topped out at three. The Lions went 2-1-2 when Kaká got on the score sheet with the only loss over the last two seasons being against Toronto FC in early May.
Offense isn’t everything, though, and it was clear that his inability to run like he used to caused some trouble when it came to team defense. Head Coach Jason Kreis attempted to remedy this by pushing him up to striker toward the end of the year. Even with the positive stats, it was clear that the captain couldn’t be leaned on every week anymore.
It wasn’t often when Kaká was on. But there were flashes of vintage Kaká at times, and especially when the Lions routed the New England Revolution to the tune of 6-1 back on Sept. 27. Check out the full highlights:
It was a comprehensive performance from the Brazilian superstar with two goals on four shots — including another stunner to add to his catalog for the year. It was the only match of 2017 in which Kaká had more than one combined assist and/or goal. He added two key passes as part of his 82.6% completion rate and equaled his season high in fouls suffered (two).
While there weren’t many matches that Kaká was able to take over like in the past, he played a major role in one of the most lopsided wins in Orlando’s history.
Final 2017 Grade
The Mane Land staff deliberated but decided on a final grade of 6.5 for Kaká. Even though he wasn’t the centerpiece of the team anymore, he still contributed heavily to the attack and posted respectable numbers for the third straight season. He didn’t live up to his league-high salary and ultimately couldn’t propel the Lions to a playoff appearance. He was selected to his third MLS All-Star game in three years and was the face of the club, but unfortunately awareness and exposure don’t win matches.
Kaká announced that he will not be returning to the club earlier this month after turning down an extension. Even with his declining presence on the pitch, it will be difficult to replace what the captain brought to Orlando City. His consistent ability to create something from nothing, score and assist, and his skill on the ball will all be missed. The recouped funds from his salary will hopefully help the club sign another big-name Designated Player, but it remains to be seen whether Kaká’s successor will fill the hole that he has left behind.