Prior to the start of the 2017 MLS season, Kaká was in high spirits and eager for a new campaign. He came into training camp in the best form of his MLS career and simply could not wait to open up the new Orlando City Stadium.
However, this did not last long, as less than 10 minutes into the season opener the Brazilian went down clutching his hamstring. After an MRI on Monday, it has been revealed that Kaká will miss at least six weeks with a Grade 1 to 2 left hamstring injury.
Although he was replaced in the 11th minute, there was a clear drop in intensity and attacking ability from Orlando City from when Kaká was on the field compared to when he was substituted out. His replacement, Giles Barnes, played well for only being on the team for a few days prior to Sunday’s game, but he simply is not Kaká.
Moving forward, Orlando City needs answers. It needs someone to step up and fill the shoes of the former Ballon d’Or winner. And there are not many options.
Head Coach Jason Kreis feels that Matias Perez Garcia can be the most productive in the No. 10 role. If that is the case, then MPG will simply slip into Kaká’s spot and be his like-for-like replacement.
The problem with MPG is that he is not consistent in his performances. On Sunday he was average, helping out on both the offensive and defensive end, but not making any great contributions either way. In Kaká’s absence, MPG needs to be the player that the Lions focus the attack around, and that has not happened yet.
Coming on for Kaká was Barnes, and a few minutes into the Englishman’s Orlando City debut he put a one-timer, left-footed cross on a platter for Cyle Larin. That would be the high point in an impressive debut, but Barnes still lacked the attacking explosiveness that Kaká can bring.
Barnes missed preseason with the Lions and so he has not had too much time to prepare with his new teammates. Given more time with the club, he will get on track better with the rest of Kreis’ squad, therefore having more of an impact in the attack.
At this time, it will mostly be down to these two to step up in Kaká’s absence.
However, it also opens up an opportunity for a few younger guys off the bench. UCF product Hadji Barry played in just eight games in 2016, but with Kaká out he may get his chance in 2017 to make a mark on the first team. Barry can play up top or out wide, and has shown flashes of why the Orlando City front office was so high on him in last year’s MLS SuperDraft.
Richie Laryea will likely have to stay with Orlando City instead of being loaned down to OCB now. While it is unlikely he will see many minutes, he should still be part of the 18 for the foreseeable future.
With Kaká in his last year of his contract and injuries coming more regularly every year, Orlando City fans needs to be asking not only how much longer can he keep playing at this level, but what is the club’s plan on replacing him when his time is up? Is Giles Barnes or MPG the answer, or is another Designated Player on the way to Central Florida? For now, the answer must come from within the squad.