2015 in Review Day 21: Kaka

Kaka was an early signing for the MLS Orlando City SC club, being announced with much fanfare on June 30, 2014. Prior to coming to MLS and Orlando city, Kaka had reached the pinnacle of his sport and received many accolades. He was awarded the FIFA Ballon D'or in 2007 as the best player in the world. He also won a World Cup in 2002 with his native Brazil, with whom he earned 87 caps and scored 29 goals. He has played in Italian Serie A (AC Milan), the Spanish Primera League (Real Madrid), and participated in three World Cup Tournaments (2002, 2006, and 2010).

By signing a player with Kaka's resume, Orlando City owner Flavio Augusto de Silva and President Phil Rawlins made it clear they intended for Orlando City to be a contender and not just a participant in MLS from day one. The signing also energized the Orlando City fan base, since even casual soccer fans knew of Kaka and the signing of a Brazilian superstar immediately drew in the passion of the local Brazilian expatriate population and gave Brazilian tourists yet another reason to visit our city. 

Kaka headshot (c) MLS.com; MLS.com retains all copyright to this image.
Games Played28Shots56
Games Started28Shots on Goal21
Minutes2439Yellow Cards6
Assists7Red Cards1

2015 Summary: Kaka's season began as everyone expected. He scored the first goal for Orlando City in MLS on opening day against NYCFC. It was a late-match equalizer from a deflected free kick that made the 65,00+ in attendance erupt in jubilation and sent everyone home elated. Then through the first ten or fifteen games of the season he became the penalty kick specialist, scoring most of his goals from the spot.

In studying up on Kaka's career, I soon realized that he was known as much for his ability to set up his teammates for scoring as anything, but that was at odds with the attitude of so many of his young teammates on Orlando City who kept wanting to pass the ball back to him to let him shoot. It seemed to take nearly half the season for the young players to quit acting like starry-eyed fanboys on the pitch with Kaka and get down to the business of playing team football, and when they did they were able to climb up to as high as second place in the East during the month of June.

But in some ways I think Kaka was almost too good for many of his Orlando City teammates. His years in the top levels of world football had given him the idea that every player on his team could read an unfolding play and understand a tactical attack similar to him. Thus many of his pass attempts seemed errant or got intercepted because other Orlando City players were not in the same "zone" as Kaka. There were times in the middle of the season when it was almost painful to see his passes nipped out of the air by opponents or roll untouched out of bounds because a teammate was too busy watching Kaka and not paying attention to the play that was unfolding.

In the final two months of the season, it became clear that the entire team was playing much better together, and many of the younger players were starting to pick up what Kaka was laying down, even if they did not have individual world-class talent. Kaka was instrumental in setting up the final 5 and 1 finish to the season, along with some other veteran players like Brek Shea and the emergence of rookie superstar Cyle Larin.

2016 Prediction: As reported by Orlando Sentinel beat writer Paul Tenorio, Kaka signed a 3.5 year contract with Orlando City in the summer of 2014, meaning he is signed through the end of the 2017 season. While at times it must have been frustrating for Kaka to play with so many relatively inexperienced players, the last two months of the season had to feel good seeing the progress they were starting to make.

I am 100% confident that Kaka will become an even more dynamic playmaker for Orlando City in 2016 as his returning teammates grow in their skills and experience. I look for him to have a lot more goals and many more assists next season as the quality of the team's play is elevated by their first year of MLS experience. Kaka will continue to be a draw both at home and on the road, and his presence on the pitch will continue to make opposing MLS sides be wary of the danger in facing Orlando City.