Ali­cia DelGallo:

With Kaká gone, what’s next for Lions?

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - Ali­cia Del Gallo Sentinel Soc­cer Writer ardel­gallo@or­lan­dosen­tinel.com

The ques­tion is an­swered, the an­nounce­ment is over and, after Sun­day night, good-byes will be said. Kaká will be gone.

For Or­lando City, the loss of a leg­end that put the fran­chise on the map is tem­pered by the loss of his $7.167 mil­lion salary and his $480,625 hit to the salary cap. A des­ig­nated-player spot — teams are al­lowed three for play­ers whose to­tal com­pen­sa­tion and ac­qui­si­tion costs ex­ceed the maximum bud­get charge — will open, along with an in­ter­na­tional ros­ter slot. That’s a lot to work with. Or­lando City CEO Alex

Leitão said the club al­ready had started look­ing for play­ers to add next sea­son, and he’s going to re­group with gen­eral man­ager Niki Bu­dalic and coach Ja­son Kreis to dis­cuss the team’s short­com­ings this year — a slew of in­juries, bouts of unin­spired play, a lack of scor­ing, off-field is­sues and miss­ing the playoffs for the third con­sec­u­tive year — and needs mov­ing for­ward.

“The only thing I can as­sure you is we are not going to say, ‘Hey, who is going to re­place Kaká?’ What we’re going to see is what this team needs,” Leitão said. “And, of course, con­sid­er­ing the re­sources that we have, we’re going to split that through the po­si­tions that we need.

“We are going to con­tinue to make in­vest­ments in or­der to make this team the team that we want.”

Or­lando City will likely have even more re­sources com­ing in dur­ing the post­sea­son, too. In ad­di­tion to Kaká, there are other ma­jor play­ers with con­tracts ex­pir­ing or en­ter­ing op­tion years, in­clud­ing strik­ers

Cyle Larin and young des­ig­nated player Car­los Ri­vas plus mid­fielder

An­to­nio No­cerino, who is the sec­ond-high­est paid player on the team at $850,000 based on num­bers re­leased by the MLS Play­ers Union.

Larin, a Cana­dian in­ter­na­tional and the Lions’ top goal scorer, in­tends to play in Europe in the near fu­ture, and Or­lando City could draw a hefty sum in the mil­lions from in­ter­ested clubs.

There’s lower-salary guys who will need to rene­go­ti­ate or move on as well, in­clud­ing right back Rafael Ramos. Ma­jor­ity owner Flávio Au­gusto da

Silva said Kaká’s de­par­ture will not only bring money but some “new di­rec­tions, new de­ci­sions.”

“Alex, Niki and Ja­son are work­ing very hard to bring op­tions to me for us to dis­cuss,” Au­gusto da Silva said. “All of us, we were ex­pect­ing this year to make [the playoffs], but again this is part of the game. Next year we’re going to re­new our mo­ti­va­tion, start again and work to do it.

“Alex, Niki and Ja­son are work­ing on this. They have some pref­er­ence in the way to go. We still have time also to see what is going to be avail­able in the market be­cause after Novem­ber and De­cem­ber you start see­ing what’s avail­able in the market.”

It was nec­es­sary for Or­lando City to splurge for Kaká when the club launched be­cause it needed a fran­chise player. But now it may make more sense to dis­perse funds more evenly like ex­pan­sion side At­lanta United FC did this year.

At­lanta, third in the East­ern Con­fer­ence and head­ing to the playoffs, pays its top player, Miguel

Almirón, $2.297 mil­lion. The sec­ond-high­est paid player on the team makes $1.04 mil­lion and then there are five play­ers be­tween $400,000 and $800,000.

Leitão said he agrees with that thought process be­fore adding, “Again some­times the op­por­tu­nity shows up, and why not try?”

“And look, the way the league is grow­ing, you’re going to see more in­vest­ments in ac­quir­ing play­ers than re­ally in salar­ies,” Leitão said. “So at the end of the day, the in­vest­ment could be even higher, but it’s just a mat­ter of it’s not salary, it’s ac­qui­si­tion.

“But, again, we’re not going to do any­thing re­ally quickly or in a des­per­ate mode. We’re going to re­ally sit down and think about it, dis­cuss what hap­pened, un­der­stand very deeply — we al­ready started — and then we are going to build around our needs.”

Leitão did say veteran play­ers “who will stay” need to step up next sea­son as lead­ers in the ab­sence of Kaká. Names he men­tioned in that cat­e­gory were No­cerino, cen­ter­back Jonathan Spec­tor, striker Dom Dwyer — who will have con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions of his own next sea­son — and goal­keeper Joe Bendik.

And with­out a fa­mous name next to him, a cre­ative force like Yoshi­mar

Yotún, the 27-year-old Peru­vian who is tech­ni­cally su­pe­rior and em­bod­ies ev­ery­thing the club is look­ing for, could take over as a star for the Lions.

News moves quickly and peo­ple move on. Fans al­ready are talk­ing about what the club can do with all freed funds when Kaká leaves, but Leitão hopes they cher­ish the Brazil­ian leg­end a bit longer and send him off the right way. The cap­tain will say farewell Sun­day, play­ing in his last MLS game when the Lions host Colum­bus. He also will par­tic­i­pate in a friendly against Puerto Rico, which will be sched­uled in the com­ing months, to raise money for hur­ri­cane vic­tims.

“I wish they un­der­stand — if not now, in the near fu­ture — who came here, who is Kaká,” Leitão said. “It would be a shock for me if peo­ple re­ally don’t pack the sta­dium for the next game. It’s not ev­ery time that you have a player of that cal­iber leav­ing your club and close, if not now then very close, to end­ing his ca­reer. So I’ll be very shocked if I don’t see this sta­dium very packed to honor him in the next two games.”

JOHN RAOUX/AP

Yoshi­mar Yo­tun could take over as a star for the Lions.

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