It’s been a long road back for Kevin Molino since suffering a torn ACL in May of 2015. However, after enduring eight months of rehabilitation since the injury, the play-making attacking midfielder is now taking part in Orlando City's preseason training ahead of the club's 2016 season-opener against Real Salt Lake on March 6.
In fact, Molino is not only participating in training, but he is standing out among his fellow Lions and providing a very encouraging sign for Orlando, which missed the former two-time USL MVP badly last season on the right wing. An ACL tear is a serious injury and returning to the playing field is not always a smooth process for athletes suffering such damage to a critical joint, so the early signs are certainly reassuring to manager Adrian Heath and company.
Orlando City has been exercising caution in easing Molino back onto the pitch, but the 25-year-old Trinidadian has impressed this week and seems to be well on his way to suiting up on March 6 at the Citrus Bowl.
On Monday, City put its players through a grueling conditioning test, known throughout soccer as the beep test. Molino was the top performer in the rigorous trial, beating out Harrison Heath, Servando Carrasco and Tyler Turner as the fittest Lion in attendance.
Molino followed that up on Tuesday by putting on a show in six-on-six drills, netting four goals in the session and out-dueling his primary competitor for the right midfield spot, Adrian Winter, who scored three goals of his own. With several of his teammates also looking good in the early stages of the preseason, the fact that Molino has been perhaps the biggest standout bodes well for the player whom Heath has lauded as one of the top players in MLS.
Molino's hard work hasn't gone unnoticed among his teammates, as Brek Shea told the media on Monday.
"Kevin's impressed us all," Shea said. "Whether it's football skills, speed or that endurance test right there – he crushed everyone, even H (Harrison Heath)."
There remains work to be done before the start of the season, as we're only a couple of weeks into the preseason, but the prospect of a Lions attack with a fully healthy Molino is an exciting one. Molino only took part in seven league contests a season ago before going down with the injury, but he showed a great understanding with his star teammate Kaká in the early stages of the 2015 campaign.
Kaká and Molino created beautiful passing sequences at times, working the ball back and forth on the right side of the field and creating chances. At times, the young attacker tried one too many dribbles in the final third, so he was unable to register a goal, but he did notch an assist and the dangerous potential was clearly on display, especially in his combination play with the legendary Brazilian.
It remains to be seen how many minutes Molino receives in the preseason friendlies and into the regular season, but the early returns are positive thus far, which could mean big things for Orlando City if Molino is able to carry that into the MLS regular season and show just how much the Lions missed him in '15.