As the excitement of winning a championship last September died down, Orlando City’s Kevin Molino knew he had a big offseason ahead of him.
There was World Cup qualifying for his home country, Trinidad and Tobago, and the prospect of Olympic qualifying in the spring. And then there was also the work that would need to be put in to continue his development as one of the brightest young players in USL PRO.
Having already surpassed his points total from the 2011 season, including currently leading the league in assists, while also having notched his first two goals at international level for Trinidad and Tobago, Molino’s play has continued along the path he envisioned nine months ago.
“Since I was small I have been training and working hard,” Molino said. “I always wanted to play, and I always wanted to get better and better.”
His move to the U.S. to join the Lions has certainly helped that process along. Spotted by Orlando coach Adrian Heath when he took a trip to scout another player in the Digicel Caribbean Cup, the former U17 and U20 international was quickly snapped up before the start of the 2011 season.
“I went down to Trinidad to watch some games, I went to watch somebody else, and the first time I saw Kevin he took my eye,” Heath said. “I was fortunate enough to find out he was out of contract, and then we managed to bring him in. The kid has great talent, he’s a talented boy, and we’re pleased with his progress. He’s still got a lot to learn, but I think long-term he’s got a huge upside.”
Molino has certainly enjoyed himself since arriving in Orlando.
“It’s just a great feeling,” Molino said. “Playing away from home, playing in an atmosphere like this and with more quality, you always want to play at a high level, and I think this has made it better for me.”
That’s not to say there hasn’t been a learning process since his move to Florida. That included adapting on the field, where his game developed greater discipline than he’d been used to growing up in the Caribbean. But for a player whose ultimate goal is to continue the tradition established by fellow countrymen Dwight Yorke, Russell Latapy and Stern John, the higher level of competition, both with Orlando and with his national and Olympic team, provided a big boost in his progression as a player.
“As a player, you always want to play at a high level,” Molino said of his experience at Olympic qualifying, “and we got to play against Mexico, which is one of the top teams in the world when you look at it, and Panama and Honduras. We didn’t get the result we wanted, but we’re going to keep our heads up and keep moving on.”
While Molino has five assists already this season, and has been a strong creative force in each of the Lions’ games, the next step of his progression is to start finding the back of the net more often. Molino has scored twice, matching his regular-season total from a season ago, but Heath is expecting the 22-year-old to start finding the back of the net on a more regular basis.
The lack of goals certainly hasn’t been for a lack of effort on Molino’s part. His 15 shots are third on the Lions after Jamie Watson and Dennis Chin, and with the way he has applied himself in the past to building his game, Heath believes Molino’s progress will continue on an upward path.
“He was always a very good individual, and now he’s starting to put it into a team concept,” Heath said. “He has a beautiful feel for the final pass. His quality in the final third has to be a little bit more consistent, but when Kevin plays at his best, he’s a joy to watch. He really is a joy to watch.”
As he continues to mature as a player, and the expectations for his play continue to grown, the questions might not be whether Molino can fulfill his potential, but how far he might go when he does.
“I think more and more now, people expect things of him,” Heath said. “People know he’s talented, and I know the Trinidad people within their setup have huge hopes for him. He’s their next generation of player, from the Stern John’s, Dwight Yorke’s, Russell Latapy’s, people like him are the future of Trinidad football, and if he keeps progressing, keeps listening, keeps learning, I really believe he can play at the highest level.”
As with many players, Molino would love the opportunity to play in Europe one day. For now, though, he’s eager to continue to play, and learn, in Orlando.
“At the end of the day, you want to win,” Molino said. “But I enjoy playing nice football, which we play here in Orlando. I’m just enjoying every single moment.”