Kaká turned Orlando into soccer destination
Lions captain says he’s not renewing his contract
It was at a news conference Wednesday inside a small room at Orlando City Stadium that the great Kaká announced he is leaving us, not renewing his contract with the Lions.
But, really, there should have been a downtown rally at City Hall, where local politicians, dignitaries, tourism officials and the Lions’ raucous supporter groups all gathered to say thank you to the man who put Orlando City and the City of Orlando on the international soccer map.
Last week’s U.S. World Cup qualifier, the Copa América tournament, the International Champions Cup — they all came to Orlando because we so quickly gained a reputation as a soccercrazed community. And the main reason for that is because Kaká came to town three years ago and immediately became the purpleclad pied piper of the pitch.
With all due respect, I don’t believe Orlandoans ever fully
appreciated just what it has meant to have Kaká in our midst. He isn’t just a man; he’s a myth. He isn’t just a professional soccer player; he is an international icon. He hasn’t simply been a player for Orlando City; he has been a handsome, wholesome marketing machine that branded Orlando City both locally and globally.
“Sometimes, I think people don’t really understand his history; how big he is for our sport,” Orlando City CEO Alex Leitão said. “He’s one of the best players to EVER play this game – period. And we were lucky enough to have him with us for three years.”
As Kaká said Wednesday as he sat between his two Brazilian buddies — Leitão and team owner Flávio Augusto da Silva — “On other clubs, I was a player. Here, I was a friend. It’s sad that it’s finishing, but it’s time.”
It’s just too bad it had to end like this — with Kaká appearing in his final Major League Soccer game Sunday with Orlando City eliminated from the playoffs yet again. This certainly isn’t how Kaká envisioned his exit. He’s been a World Cup champion, a FIFA World Player of the Year and the first athlete in history to reach 10 million Twitter followers. Leading Orlando City to an MLS Cup was supposed to be his final triumphant feat in the sport he has dedicated his life to.
“This is the last chapter of his career,” Orlando City founder and former team president Phil Rawlins told me once. “He doesn’t want to end the last chapter of his book without a great ending.”
Sadly, that is exactly what has happened. As endings go, Kaká’s final act will go down as one of the worst since the last episode of “Seinfeld.” Let’s be honest, shall we: This season has been, without question, an utter failure for Orlando City.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons Kaká has decided to call it quits in Orlando. He’s been a winner throughout his illustrious career and now he is playing on a team that is one of the worst in MLS. And because he is the highest-paid player in the league at $7 million per season, fans often point to Kaká as part of the problem.
Kaká was very vague Wednesday about his future plans, but it sounds like he wants to continue playing — perhaps back in Brazil, where his two children live with his ex-wife. Leitão had been trying to negotiate a one-year extension with Kaká, but obviously the two could not come to terms.
The logical assumption is that Kaká wanted to continue to make a boatload of money while Orlando City wanted him to play next season at a drastically reduced salary. Deep down, though, I believe both parties were just ready to part ways.
Kaká likely wants to move back to Brazil to be near his kids and end his playing career in his homeland.
Orlando City has established itself, doesn’t really need Kaká as a marketing tool anymore and believes it can better use his $7 million salary on younger, better players.
Kaká says he needs “new challenges and new motivation” in his life.
Flávio says, “This is going to be good for us. It’s important for our younger players to start a new cycle.”
Leitão says, “Orlando City is a small, little kid — 3-years-old — and Kaká was always there helping us to stand up and learn to walk. Now, somehow, we will have to learn to do this without him. And we will.”
Translation: In life, in love and in sports, sometimes you just come to the realization it’s time to move on.
At the time, Kaká’s arrival was the best thing that ever happened for Orlando City.
Sadly and sentimentally, the same could be said about his departure.
Lions captain Kaká, center, says he will not renew his contract. Orlando City chairman and majority owner Flávio Augusto da Silva, left, and CEO Alex Leitão joined Kaká for the announcement. More coverage, C1, C2
Orlando City’s Kaká has been a World Cup champion and a FIFA World Player of the Year.
Orlando City CEO Alex Leitão said people don’t realize how big Kaká is for soccer. “He’s one of the best players to EVER play this game – period,” Leitão said.