The Orlando City midfielder bounced back from an ACL tear and proved to be worth the wait as he became one of the league's most dangerous attackers.
Kevin Molino’s MLS journey could have been over shortly after it had begun.
The Trinidad and Tobago international had joined Orlando City when the club first started operations in the USL. He had gone from rotation player, to starter, to star in the USL after scoring 20 goals in the league in Orlando City’s last season before joining MLS.
It set the stage for a highly anticipated debut, one that was all too brief when Molino tore the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee in a May 2015 friendly. Seven games in, Molino’s season was over.
“It was hard to come to terms with it,” Molino told Goal USA in an interview earlier this year. “It was my first major injury — the next day I had an MRI and they determined I’d be out for the season.
“The most important thing for me was the people around me — my mother, family, friends. It’s been a tough road and being out for 10 months is difficult, but you know in life, whatever happens you have to get up and keep going.”
That’s exactly what Molino did and more. Upon his return in March, the 26-year-old midfielder didn’t just make up for lost time, he took on a starring role.
Molino finished 2016 with 11 goals and eight assists. He also ended the year with 42 chances created and nine big chances created — tied for the fifth best in MLS. His goal, assist and chance creation totals were each second on Orlando City and he created the most big chances for the Lions.
It contributed to Orlando City scoring 55 goals on the year - third best in MLS.
But Orlando City failed to make the playoffs as defensively the side was a mess, conceding 60 times. That was the worst mark in the league, and something Molino knows he needs to help improve.
“For me, the attacking aspect has been great, but they’re asking me to continue to work on the defensive side of my game," he said. "I can always improve, you know? I can always get better.”
In addition, Molino ran afoul with Trinidad and Tobago head coach Stephen Hart for breaking curfew twice while on international duty. The result was a two-game suspension for the midfielder during the first two contests of the CONCACAF Hexagonal. Molino has since apologized.
But the his value is unmistakable — his international teammates missed him greatly in a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica to open up the final round of World Cup qualifying. The Soca Warriors often seemed to lack ideas to unlock the Ticos defense, something Molino has done so well for Orlando City.
So while there remains room for Molino to grow both on and off the field, 2016 established that the base line to work with is high. He answered questions about his ability, and it’s hard to question his determination after working his way back from an ACL tear in less than a year — earning him Goal’s comeback player of the year award.