“To be fair, soccer saved my life. I could have been someone I didn't want to be, I could have been somewhere I didn't want to be. I’m happy soccer came into my life and I fell in love with it since the first day.” Head down, staring into infinity, Kevin Molino remembered wistfully of two brothers he lost back in his home country of Trinidad and Tobago. “I had six brothers. But two of my brothers passed away because they were in the wrong place in the wrong time. It was hard. In Trinidad is difficult. Everything can happen.”
Kevin Molino is one of the greatest strikers in American soccer today. He scored 29 goals for Orlando City in 2014. After breaking the historical record for most goals in an USL PRO Regular Season (20), he was named the league’s most valuable player. Within three months, Molino will debut in North America’s premier league, Major League Soccer (MLS). At age 24, he is already one of MLS’ most promising players even before his first game. An unbelievable accomplishment for a boy who seemed aimless 12 years ago.
“I grew up in Arima and moved to Carenage. My mother ended up coming to the U.S. to live in New York when I was 12, so it was all me and my brothers, ourselves with our father. We always lived a soccer life, playing in the neighborhood and always wanting to become someone successful. I grew up that way and at the end of the day, I just want to keep it awake and don’t forget where I came from and keep working hard to go to the next level,” said Molino
He followed his grandmother’s advice. “I had a grandmother impassioned about sport. She always told me that the sport could take me to a different level. Soccer could make me go a long way. People that gave me positive advice, I took it very seriously. And that is the reason why I wasn’t at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
For the skinny little Kevin, the right place was anywhere, as long as he had the ball as a companion. Playing in the streets, he gained the ability that made him one of the Trinidad and Tobago National Team’s leading players in recent years, the top scorer in the Caribbean Cup Finals and the Gold Cup qualification hero.
“I grew up playing on the concrete. You automatically adopt skills, playing with people older than you. Since I was six, I played with people that were 18, 19. I was always ahead of my age because I was playing with people older than me”, said Molino. “My mother would buy me a pair of shoes and a week or two later, I would go home with the shoes torn and take an earful, but it didn’t matter because it was what I loved. Many times I’d return late, like 9, 10 o’clock because I was playing. And the training was only from 8 to 10 in the morning. And nothing has changed. I have the same mentality now. If I get chance, I train every day, train hard every day.”
If it wasn’t for his willingness to become a more efficient player, Molino would have never succeeded. Although skilled, Kevin did not have the physical capacity of a modern soccer player until a few months ago. 5 ft. 11 in. tall, he weighed only 120 pounds on his debut for Orlando City in 2011. Molino scored just six goals in his first three seasons for the Lions. Today, 40 pounds stronger and athletically fit, he has reached the 29 goals mark in a single season.
“When we signed Kevin, we had the ability then - because the rest of the team was strong - to put him in the team and he has been allowed to develop, make his mistakes, mature with the team”, said Orlando City’s Head Coach Adrian Heath. “The player we see now on the field and the player that came to us is just night and day but it took four years.”
To Molino, Heath’s merits on his incredible journey go far beyond that. “Adrian has helped me, making me also a better person, not just a better soccer player”, said Kevin, grateful to all who believed in him.
“I had a coach, his name was Abul. He passed away but he used to teach me skills every Sunday, like a personal trainer, working on my skills, and I was like ‘Why is he working me so hard?’ and at the end of the day I just want to take my hat off to him and say thank you. He passed away, but I just want to take the time off to say thank you.”
Mere weeks from exchanging passes with one of the greatest soccer players of our time, the Brazilian and global superstar Kaká in the historic Orlando City MLS debut season, Molino is the symbol of the Lions’ winning culture, forged with passion and many goals. "I like to play attractive football. This is my goal. Let’s have fun, not just add goals to my game,” said the attacking midfielder. “I'm very proud to have reached where I am, but I'm not satisfied. I want to get to another level. I love Orlando, I love the club and everything else here. But what I want is to play at the highest possible level.”