Monday will mark the one-year anniversary of Kaká announcing his retirement from soccer. In some ways it seems like yesterday but in others it seems like an age ago.
The Brazilian was Orlando City’s first MLS captain and he left his stamp on the team in his three seasons as a Lion. The club never put a good enough team around him to fully weaponize him for Major League Soccer, but he left us with plenty of magical moments in his time in Central Florida.
The first thing Kaká did for Orlando City was to energize the city of Orlando and inject excitement into the community about the upcoming move to Major League Soccer when he was announced in July of 2014. The gravitas brought to Florida by a World Cup champion and Ballon d’Or winner — especially one with Kaká’s friendly disposition and public persona — cannot be understated. The city wanted an MLS team, but adding a world soccer icon into the mix brought instant credibility and a jolt of optimism to the region and to the club.
Kaká handled being named captain the way everyone in Orlando would come to expect. He showed his humility, excitement, and respect for the position. He also showed the happiness he always exhibited when discussing his team and his role within it.
The Lions took to the pitch in 2015 for the first time at the Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium) with their No. 10 leading them onto the field, wearing the captain’s armband. He did what captains and star players are supposed to do: create a moment of magic. Kaká’s such moment of magic was saved for the end. Trailing fellow expansion side New York City FC, 1-0, and down a man after Aurelien Collin was sent off, the captain stepped up to take a free kick and equalized.
Sure, the shot took a deflection, but that’s where the magic comes in. Instead of bouncing off the wall or trickling helplessly wide, it found its way into the net. It’s not the prettiest goal the team has ever scored but it was historic and it needed every bit of Kaká magic to get in and earn the club a point.
He went on to score 23 more times in league play and once in the U.S. Open Cup against Columbus in 2015. In 75 MLS games he scored 24 goals and assisted on 22 more, involving in a ridiculous 66 goals in those 75 contests. While some may remember the Brazilian as a step slow in his final year, laboring to keep up with the pace of the game, it’s important to remember that he was on three non-playoff teams and managed to involve himself in nearly a goal per contest. That’s special.
Kaká was dealing with niggling injuries throughout his three years in Orlando — the kind that caused him to miss the 2016 season opener. But his quality always shone through. He was often one or two thoughts ahead of his teammates, which caused some attacks to fizzle. This was frustrating for some, but when everyone was on the same page his quality was undeniable, even that late in his career. (His days in Orlando came from age 32 upon his arrival for the inaugural MLS season camp to age 35 in his final game.)
The Brazilian not only represented Orlando City in the MLS All-Star Game, he was also named the team’s captain. As if that wasn’t enough, he went out and scored a goal and assisted on another to earn the game’s MVP honors in a win over Tottenham. He went on to represent the Lions at the All-Star Game in 2016 and 2017 as well.
Kaká was good at doing things first. In addition to scoring City’s first competitive goal, he also scored the first goal in Orlando City Stadium history. Most fans will remember Cyle Larin’s stadium opener in 2017, but it was the captain that properly christened the purple palace. It came in a preseason friendly against Saint Louis FC. It didn’t matter that it was a closed game and a full house wasn’t there to see it — a detail lost on some European media outlets. As usual, he did it in dramatic fashion — this time on a free kick.
The first ever goal in Orlando City's new stadium was a free-kick from Kaka!pic.twitter.com/3nXtZtywCe— 101 Great Goals (@101greatgoals) February 27, 2017
Despite missing six, 10, and 11 league games in his three years in Orlando, Kaká was part of 16 goals in 2015 (nine goals, seven assists), 19 in 2016 (nine goals, 10 assists), and 11 in 2017 (six goals, five assists). To put that in perspective, Yoshimar Yotún has yet to reach as many as six goals — Kaká’s worst output — in an MLS season with Orlando City, albeit in a short sample size. (He does have a 10-assist season; however, MLS has added the ‘hockey assist’ since Kaká left.) Sacha Kljestan reached six goals in his first year in Orlando but only amassed six assists.
Kaká’s time in Orlando City was brief in the grand scheme of things, and it wasn’t all we’d hoped it would be. He did some great things individually but wasn’t able to lift the club to shared success. But his stint as a Lion should always be remembered for his brilliance and its historical impact. I leave you now with all of his Orlando City goals.
Oh, I’m sorry. Did you want to include his preseason goals, his assists, and a few other awesome plays? OK, here you go: