Mention the name Kevin Molino anywhere around Orlando City SC, and you are likely to be met with instant approval from anyone you speak to. The Trinidadian midfielder is universally liked and admired, and is building a glowing resume of MLS work this year.
New Orlando head coach Jason Kreis is a more critical observer than most, however, and his two words that most sum up Molino are “improvement,’ and “humility” – as in he expects Kevin to work more on some aspects of his game, but he rates him one of the most humble individuals he has been around.
It is, perhaps, a surprising verdict on someone who has increasingly caught the eye this season. After missing most of 2015 with a cruel ACL tear, Molino has chalked up nine goals and seven assists this term, and has been a big part of the Lions’ attacking threat.
The 26-year-old from Carenage came in third in voting for Etihad Airways Player of the Month in July, behind only New York City’s veteran star Frank Lampard and stellar Portland goalkeeper Jake Gleeson, and he was also third in the Audi Player Index for Week 21, with only Lampard and Toronto’s reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco ahead of him.
But Kreis is unequivocal in assessing Molino’s all-round game, and what he wants to see more of going forward.
“Kevin’s a very talented player – with the ball,” the head coach insisted. “When we have the ball, he finds good spots. Technically he does good things for himself, he makes good decisions in the final third and he can score goals, so he has all of those gifts and characteristics.
“What we have told him from Day One, when we sat down with him, is that it’s what happens when we don’t have the ball that is where we need improvement. We saw even in the game the other night, he scored two goals but there still needs to be improvement about how he is defending.”
Molino bagged his first MLS brace at home against New England last Sunday, and also earned an assist on Cyle Larin’s 11th goal of the season, but it is clear Kreis is going to be intensely critical when it comes to the defensive side of things.
Much of his early focus with the Lions is on how the team defends, which has been Orlando’s Achilles heel through the first half of the season, and he is still in the process of getting his own system in place.
“We’re still trying to improve the tactics and get players to see what our vision is and to put it into practice,” Kreis explained. “And it is looking good. Every single day so far I am really pleased with the training mentality of this group.
“I’m a coach that believes we should play to our strengths, that we should try to be perfect in our philosophy of play, and, if we do that, we can force opponents to adjust to us.”
Returning to Molino, Kreis is hugely complimentary of the player’s attitude and modesty. He is reluctant to draw comparisons, but he sees a great future in store for the slender midfielder.
“I haven’t been around him long enough to tell you [who he reminds me of], but I love the player,” Kreis said. “Most of all what I love about him is his humility. I think we can all take a lesson from people like that, who are extremely talented but willing to do all of the work and, at the same time, remain extremely humble about their own perception of themselves.”
Kreis has seen enough of the Orlando squad to think it stands a good chance of continuing to build on its recent promise. It is only below the red line because the have fewer wins than New England, and it now has an unbeaten home run that stretches back more than a year to July 18, 2015.
“Every team in this league represents a big challenge,” he stated. “We are all very, very equal, so often times it comes down to which team is a little more tactically organized, which team is perhaps a little more fit, and I think the biggest piece is which team wants it more. And I believe this group should be able to control that last factor, especially when we’re at home.”