Kaká turned Or­lando into soc­cer des­ti­na­tion

Lions cap­tain says he’s not re­new­ing his con­tract

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - Mike Bianchi Sentinel Colum­nist

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.

JA­COB LANGSTON/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

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

STEPHEN M. DOWELL/STAFF FILE PHOTO

Or­lando City’s Kaká has been a World Cup cham­pion and a FIFA World Player of the Year.

STEPHEN M. DOWELL/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

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.

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