Jan. 26 is a big day in Orlando City history. An early MLS fan favorite came to the City Beautiful on this date, while a club legend was traded away.
Orlando City signed three players on Jan. 26, 2015. First, the Lions announced a loan deal involving Northern Ireland international striker Martin Paterson. Shortly afterward, Colombian midfielder Carlos Rivas’s rumored move to central Florida was finally made official. With the third and final signing of the day, Orlando City confirmed that a young Colombian midfielder named Cristian Higuita joined the Lions.
Two of the players brought in the squad on that day ended up a disappointment. Paterson played in 53 minutes in 2015. The oft-injured forward had his contract terminated less than a calendar year after signing for Orlando.
Rivas had a considerably longer tenure with Orlando, but expectations never panned out. The Colombian made 78 appearances (42 starts) but only found the back of the net eight times. He did record 13 assists but also had 15 yellow cards. Eventually, Rivas was traded to the New York Bulls in a package deal for Sacha Kljestan.
While Rivas and Paterson never made the impact Orlando City fans and staff alike were hoping for, Higuita quickly became a fan favorite. The midfielder played five seasons for Orlando and currently has the third-most appearances in Orlando history with 108. He is one of just three players to reach the century mark for the Lions. Luke Boden (150) and Kevin Molino (144) are the other two.
Higuita was the last player of the Lions’ inaugural season to leave the team and was part of another rebuild project in Orlando. He only scored six goals and bagged nine assists. Those numbers aren’t bad for a defensive midfielder. Higuita was a physical player who would take out the opposition if he got beat. This led to his 39 yellow cards — a team record that likely will not be broken any time soon. He also saw three red cards.
Higuita joined the club as a young player, as part of the inaugural team. Five years later, he left the team as a fan favorite. Exactly two years after he signed with Orlando, the Lions swapped away a club legend.
Orlando traded Molino to former gaffer Adrian Heath and Minnesota United on Jan. 26, 2017. It was a record transfer fee at the time.
“Nothing has changed, we always wanted to keep Kevin,” then-GM Niki Budalic said. “We made every attempt to resolve the situation, unfortunately he had made his opinion that he wanted a new challenge and [to] move on, and once he did that we felt we couldn’t convince him to stay. It was best to make the decision that was best for the club, and we took a lot of factors into account.
“The most important thing is we’re not prepared to keep people here who aren’t happy. We want people here who are committed to helping this team win, and we didn’t feel that was the case with Kevin.”
Molino is one of the best players to ever suit up for the Lions. The Trinidadian, who helped the Lions win several major trophies during the team’s USL era, has the second-most appearances (144), starts (126), and minutes played (10,945), the third-most goals (42), and most assists (30) in Orlando City history. Molino’s legacy will forever go on in Orlando supporters’ hearts, and he was voted as the runner-up for Orlando City’s Player of the Decade, even though he was upset in our March Madness voting in the Elite Eight in our readers’ all-time favorite Lions poll by none other than Higuita.