Eight weeks from the start of the 2017 MLS campaign to the end of April was a long time coming.
For Orlando City captain Ricardo Kaka it was. A stoppage-time goal to seal a victory was the culmination of patiently waiting for a return.
“I cannot put into words what I am feeling,” Kaka told reporters shortly after Orlando’s 2-0 win over Colorado. “The emotion to be back, to play, to score, and win another game at home. The feeling when I came on the field, with all the supporters cheering and clapping, it was unbelievable. Thank you for today, and making this day so special.”
The Brazilian star suffered a hamstring injury 11 minutes into the club’s season opener against New York City FC on March 5. From that point on, for eight weeks until recovery, it meant he had to watch from the sidelines while the Lions continued on to craft their best start in their short MLS history.
“I have been away and watching the game from the stands. I thought maybe someday if I could score a goal I would try to celebrate with the fans,” said Kaka. “When I scored the goal, I was close to the fans, so I tried to stand up [with them]. It was very good. I could feel what they feel, and they could feel what I feel.”
The road to recovery was a tough one, Kaka said. A grade 1-2 hamstring strain kept the Brazilian star out of Jason Kreis’ lineup for almost two months.
But even during the captain’s absence, the Lions held their own. An impressive 6-1-0 record has them sitting atop the Eastern Conference table along with the best home record across the league thus far with five straight wins.
“It was tough to be out and go eight weeks without playing,” said Kaka. “It was good to see how the team was playing, and to see their behavior in those games. To have to train alone, and not knowing when I would be ready [is difficult.] Today I showed I am ready to join the team again and be part of this amazing group.”
The dynamic of the game changed as soon as Kaka and teammate Carlos Rivas entered the field as substitutes toward the 60th minute on Saturday. Immediately, Kaka’s first touch produced a pass that cut through the Colorado defense, finding Rivas in the box to center the ball before it was blocked away.
Moments later in the 66th minute, Kaka won a ball outside the box and sent a curling shot inches wide of the post. A second opportunity for Kaka came one minute into stoppage time when he tapped the ball into the net to secure a 2-0 for Orlando.
“Obviously really pleased with the performance,” Kreis said on Kaka’s return. “Both him and Carlos [Rivas] came in and the game changed for us in a very positive direction. Pleased for both those guys’ contributions, pleased for the work they put in, pleased that [Kaká] gets to come back after he’s worked so incredibly hard to get himself fit again and make such a major statement.”
“Coming into this game I think we’re a team that’s doing well and improving and to add a player like Ricky at the moment is going from strength to strength,” Kreis concluded.
Kaka is back.
When asked if he feels like he’s ready to go for a full 90 minutes against Toronto FC on Wednesday, he said: “I’m ready to play. Tonight, Jason [Kreis] asked me to play 30 minutes, and I was ready. We will see. In the next game and against the next couple teams. We will see how long I can play. I will be available to play, and I will be ready to play.”
(Photo Courtesy of Orlando City)