Kevin Molino knows he isn’t Kaká but, for at least this week, he believes he can carry the torch for Orlando City SC’s injured captain and star man.
With the great Brazilian sidelined for a second successive week by a thigh strain as the Lions start a demanding three-game road trip at New York Red Bulls on Wednesday evening (7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE), the Trinidadian midfielder is ready to step into the substantial void for a team still in transition after the departure of head coach Adrian Heath.
And, asked if he was ready to become the team leader in Kaká’s absence, Molino was unequivocal.
“Definitely,” he insisted. “I have been here in the US six years now, and I have been a leader [in the past,] so why not be a leader now?
“It’s very important [that someone steps up] when we lose Kaká, who brings something different to the table. When he is on the field, he opens up more opportunities for me and Cyle [Larin]. He is a big loss but he’ll be back soon and we just have to keep some momentum going until then.”
Molino was the USL MVP in 2014 prior to Orlando joining MLS, and he is looking to get back to his best after missing most of 2015 with a knee injury. And, although he has played mainly on the right of midfield to date, he relishes the chance to take Kaká’s role in New York.
“Playing the No. 10 is one of my favorite positions because I love to roam and be more free,” Molino explained. “Being on the right side is more disciplined and there is a lot more defending, but being in that free role, I get more opportunity to get forward, make chances and score goals.”
Making chances and scoring goals is what Molino is all about. He bagged a USL-record 20 in 2014 and has six tallies and five assists in 14 starts this season. He chalked up a memorable solo effort against Fort Lauderdale in US Open Cup action last month, and almost had a similar goal in last Friday’s 0-0 home draw with Houston but for a stunning Tyler Deric save.
“When you look back at the game on Friday, I think we coped well,” Molino said. “After the loss of a coach and playing a game straight after, we responded well. I think we deserved more from the game, but most importantly we need to look forward to these three crucial games on the road, which is a difficult time. Individually and collectively we need to step up and pull each other along and hopefully we’ll get some points on the road.”
After New York, Orlando will take a flight direct to Vancouver ahead of Saturday’s clash with the Whitecaps (10 pm ET; MLS LIVE in the US, TSN1 and RDS2 in Canada), and they then return home for a few days before a trip to Columbus on July 23. But Molino is anxious to make sure no one looks past the Red Bulls.
“First we have to look at New York and get three points there,” he pointed out. “We need to get a win to boost our confidence and get back across the red line. If we could get to fourth place, that would help us a lot going to Vancouver.
“It definitely helps [to put some of the noise in the background] while we go on the road, but we’re playing some good quality teams, so we’ll have to be mentally strong and well focused. And, when we come back home, we need to finish games off. As a team we tend to score and then relax sometimes, so we need to finish games off at home as soon as possible. When we look at the fans, we have to give credit to them. They deserve more to be honest.”
The Lions have taken only one point off two previous games with the Red Bulls this season, but they chalked up their best road win of 2015 at Red Bull Arena, and Molino is optimistic they can thrive there once more.
“We know how they play,” he added. “They are a fantastic team when they have the ball, and in defense, but we just have to focus on breaking them down, on our strengths, and try to get an early goal to put them under some pressure.
“When you play the Red Bulls it is always a good encounter, good competition, like the last game [against them] at home, even though we tied. Now we have to go there again so we have to keep our heads up high, work hard and try to get above that red line.”
The other unspoken task for the Lions is trying to find closure after the loss of a long-time head coach who had particularly close ties to players like Molino. The Trinidadian was recruited by Heath in 2011 and they formed a close bond during their four USL seasons.
“It was a pleasure to work with Adrian for the past few years,” Molino confirmed. “I owe him so much and it is definitely a loss for me personally. But, as a team, you have to find a way to build up your strength and keep going together.
“It is a team sport and we have to help each other, pull each other along when we’re going through a difficult time. We have been doing that well so far.”