There is a smile on Kevin Molino's face again, and that, in itself, is a sign of progress for the Orlando City midfielder.
It has been almost two months since Molino went down with a torn ACL during a friendly against Ponte Preta on May 2, and for a while the Trinidad and Tobago star did not feel like himself.
Molino had never suffered a major injury before, and he even tried to get back up and play in the Ponte Preta friendly after feeling his knee give way. When he heard the diagnosis in the hospital the next day, and even in the weeks that followed as his mother, sister and girlfriend tried to comfort him with home-cooked food and support, Molino was still trying to fathom what it meant.
The end of his first MLS season. No Gold Cup with Trinidad and Tobago. No more soccer for nine months.
"It was hard to take under my chin," Molino said, speaking to a media outlet for the first time since the surgery. "I think I was having a good season even though I didn't score. I knew it would come. But I just have to live with it now and just work to get back."
It took time to come to terms with the injury, but after surgery to repair the knee and a few weeks of getting through the pain and mental sufferring, Molino is beginning to emerge from the fog and return as the upbeat "Hot Boy," a nickname that is a nod to his outgoing persona as well as his stylish off-the-field garb. The flashy clothing has spurred fans to create a "Kevin Molino's Pants" Twitter account.
There were no leather pants when Molino showed up at the Lions' training facility this week — it's too hot for that — but Molino did have on a typical GQ outfit of white shorts, black shirt and fedora. He also was without crutches, which he ditched two weeks ago.
Molino's progress isn't just showing up in his off-the field attire. He is working on the alter-G treadmill at the Orlando City facilities, allowing him to run and walk with less strain on his knee. He said he is up to putting 70 percent of his body weight pressure on his legs while using the treadmill.
The midfielder said he was thankful fans and his teammates for the support they have given him since he went down with the injury. Molino was in a suite at the Citrus Bowl when Kaká pulled on one of Molino's No. 18 jerseys to celebrate after scoring during a 4-0 win over the L.A. Galaxy.
"A moment where no words can express how I feel about that," Molino said. "Just a class act from Kaká."
As he moves forward in the rehabilitation process, Molino said he understands his approach to training now must go beyond what it ever did before and taking care of his leg and knee will be a part of his routine going forward. His focus is on getting back onto the field as a better player than he was before the injury.
Until he can play again, Molino said he is cheering on his Orlando City teammates to make the playoffs and the Trinidad and Tobago national team to perform well in the Gold Cup. His goal is to soon be back "wearing the purple shirt and also my national team colors."
"I miss it every day, just walking out and hearing the fans cheering," Molino said. "And not just the fans, but the leading up to a football game is just incredible. Even going to the training park and training and being in the sun, and being with the guys and having fun. This is all I know, football, and this is what I love. I grew up playing it all my life, and to be out for nine months is heartbreaking, but I have to deal with it."