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Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 was a _______ day in the history of Orlando City Soccer Club. I leave a blank in place of the adjective because, to be honest, there’s a wide range of applicable words. Surprising, sad, exciting, curious, angry…the list goes on. It was the fateful day that Orlando City’s brass made the move to trade fan favorite and star midfielder Kevin Molino to Adrian Heath’s Minnesota United (along with goalkeeper Patrick McLain) for $650,000 in allocation money. At the time, it was one of the highest amounts paid out from one club to another in exchange for a player’s services. The move made sense on all fronts too, with Orlando gaining financial flexibility and Molino joining his former coach.

Fast forward to City’s trip to United’s TCF Bank Stadium just five months later. Kevin Molino was out, affected by an illness, making Saturday’s home match against United Molino’s first time facing off against his former side. He’ll be gracing Orlando City Stadium for the first time since his move and one has to wonder how his reception will transpire. Will the supporters welcome him back? Or will they hold his less-than-amicable exit against him? Regardless, one thing is certain: City must remain focused on neutralizing the Loons’ star playmaker.

We all know Kevin Molino. We all know him very well. He’s versatile, tenacious, and strong, all while having an excellent touch on the ball. He can play on the wing, in the midfield, and can even feature in the final third if needed. In his preferred role, Molino is a distributing midfielder who’s also a constant scoring threat. He can turn a defender inside out on the dribble and then split a defense with a no-look through ball. To put it simply, he’s really good at soccer. In United’s season opener last weekend, Molino scored both of his side’s goals — leading a failed last-ditch charge to steal a point. There should be no doubt that he will be the linchpin of United’s attack.

How Orlando Will Stop Him
Molino has always seemed subscribed to a specific style of play, relying on feint body movements and slick layoffs to fool opposing defenders in the attacking third. Molino differs from your typical MLS midfielder because of his ability to beat you on the dribble and either score or provide the ball on a platter to a teammate. He’s a constant threat off the ball too, consistently sneaking in runs toward the box. Fortunately for the Lions, many of the team’s players and staff are quite familiar with these attributes and I fully expect Jonathan Spector and his center back pairing (hopefully that’s Lamine Sané, but Amro Tarek should also anticipate the task) to have constant tabs on Molino’s whereabouts. There will need to be an additional level of communication between the defense and midfield, and City’s defensive effort this week will heavily depend on execution in marking the former Lion.

Probably Not, But Maybe
While not quite practical, Molino is dangerous enough to warrant a somewhat personal marking, perhaps from Will Johnson. Johnson’s aggressive persistence as he careens throughout the middle third strikes me as a likely candidate for marking Molino. He might not always win his tackle, but you’ll always know he’s there. He’s the type of midfielder that you love to have on your side, yet absolutely despise playing against (See: Sacha Kljestan). He’s also a midfielder that hates being beat on the dribble. I mean, everyone hates getting beat, but Johnson is something else. It’s like he takes it personally…extra personally. He’s the kind of man I’d want marking a slippery midfielder for 90 minutes, but we’ll see if Jason Kreis shares a similar sentiment.

This possible defensive encounter also teases an interesting parallel that could fuel the battle: both Johnson and Molino are playing for coaches that they’ve played for previously. Johnson captained Kreis’ infamous Real Salt Lake side for years, taking home an MLS Cup in the process. Molino was scouted from his home country of Trinidad and Tobago by Adrian Heath and went on to help push the Lions into MLS. Both midfielders have loudly voiced their respect and admiration for their coaches throughout the years, and both have altered their career paths in the past to ensure celebrated reunions. Their commitment to these men and their sides has been unbridled, their dedication unmatched. So, what will happen when they collide?

Regardless of how Kreis decides to deal with Molino, it is irrefutable that Orlando’s defensive success against United will rely heavily on shutting him down. There should also be no denying the fact that Molino will be out for revenge against his former side. He’ll be looking to get on the score sheet.


Originally published on themaneland.com