With the Loons in town this weekend, many of the Orlando City faithful will be excited to see former head coach Adrian Heath in his first game back in the City Beautiful. Joining him will be Kevin Molino, who had an illustrious career wearing purple. It will be the midfielder’s first game in the city since departing prior to the 2017 season and the first time he’ll face his old team after missing last season’s match-up with an illness.
More than any other player, Molino’s tenure with the club represented it’s rise to MLS. The young Trinidadian joined the Lions as a 20-year-old in 2011, the club’s inaugural USL season. Starting as a reserve, Molino would become a key part of two USL Pro championship teams and would win a pair of league MVP awards. The growth of the young player coincided with the growth of a club that would become the heart of its community.
Such a key part of the club was Molino, that when the club was granted an expansion spot in MLS, he was selected as the club’s first MLS signing, even though superstar Kaká was on his way. It appeared as though Molino would remain in Orlando as long as he was playing in America, and possibly the rest of his career.
Molino experienced several highs and a devastating low during his time in Orlando. Winning five trophies in his four USL seasons with the Lions, he played a key part on the 2011 and 2013 USL championship teams and was the league’s most valuable player in 2012 and 2014. In the latter year, he set the league’s single-season goal scoring record.
At the tender age of 24, Molino went into the 2015 MLS season with tremendous excitement and confidence. A year earlier, he had turned down an offer to join the Seattle Sounders to remain in Orlando and be on the club’s inaugural MLS roster. However, Molino tore his ACL early in the 2015 season, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season. The midfielder would only play in only seven games that season.
When Kevin Molino requested a trade prior to the 2017 season, he was the club’s all-time leader (combined MLS and USL) in goals with 42, assists with 30, and was just six games from tying Luke Boden as the club’s all-time appearance leader.
For all Molino accomplished with the Lions, many will remember him only for his departure, especially those that only started following the team after it joined MLS. Wanting a Designated Player-level salary, Molino requested to be traded during preseason last year and was subsequently dealt to his former boss, Adrian Heath, and Minnesota United. Over time, Molino will become revered by Orlando City fans and universally mentioned alongside his peers, such as Boden, Jamie Watson, Miguel Gallardo, and Dom Dwyer. But that time likely has yet to come.
Despite his departure, Molino has unquestionably been the most significant player in Orlando City history. Dwyer and Kaká may be more popular to many, but Dwyer’s 2013 goal-scoring tear came on loan and Kaká’s best years were with AC Milan. Molino was Orlando City’s player, having become known wearing purple and the player with the longest tenure in club history. His departure may have left a sour taste in the mouths of many of the 25,000 fans that will be in attendance, but his impact on the club must not be forgotten.