A lot has changed over the course of Orlando City SC’s first three seasons in Major League Soccer, but if one thing was rock solid during that period, it was Kaká’s role as the team’s primary penalty kick taker.
The former captain took 10 out of the 14 penalty kicks the Lions had from 2015 to 2017, converting eight of them. When the Brazilian was not on the field, other players would take them, with Cyle Larin, Julio Baptista, Carlos Rivas, and Kevin Molino all attempting to score from the spot, but only the Trinidadian succeeding. (Molino was actually given the opportunity by the captain to help him get on the score sheet in MLS.)
In 2018, the Lions seem to be trying a new approach as three different players have taken the first four penalties the team had this season. While Yoshimar Yotún converted his two shots, against Minnesota United and the Colorado Rapids, and Sacha Kljestan also netted his only one, against the Portland Timbers, Justin Meram had his attempt saved against the San Jose Earthquakes.
Meram had the opportunity to take the penalty kick against San Jose as the team was trying to help him to score his first goal for the Lions, much like Kaká did with Molino, but considering his technical skills and his experience, he’d also be a viable taker.
Add Dom Dwyer, who converted eight of the 10 penalty kicks he shot during his stint with Sporting Kansas City, to the mix and Orlando City has multiple players qualified for the role.
That could lead Head Coach Jason Kreis to establish some kind of rotation among the players when penalty kicks are called for Orlando City. The strategy has a couple of significant benefits, but it needs to be perfectly managed or it can come back and bite the team.
The first advantage of having multiple players taking penalty kicks is the unpredictability that comes with it. If a single player’s tendencies when shooting from the spot can be pretty easy to identify and memorize, the amount of information can quickly become overwhelming if four or five players are to be monitored, making it harder for opposing goalkeepers to prepare for them.
Having a handful of players ready to take penalty kicks can also be helpful if the assigned taker is not having a good match for whatever reason or is fatigued. In this case, another player, who is in a more confident moment or in better physical condition, can step up and take the responsibility. That could be particularly useful when Yotún is out for the FIFA World Cup.
However, the coaching staff needs to be very clear about who’s the primary option for each match. The lack of assignment can lead players to have selfish behavior and can create conflicts within the team.
In 2016, Columbus Crew SC had this problem when Federico Higuain and Kei Kamara got into an argument during a match as both wanted the opportunity to take a penalty kick. The clash resonated loudly in the team’s locker room and it ended with Kamara, who had scored 22 goals in the previous season, being traded a few weeks later.
This definitely doesn’t seem to the case right now for Orlando, but if the team rightfully wants to turn its myriad of potential penalty kick takers into an asset, it needs to establish a fair and clear system to manage it.