With Kaká gone, what’s next for Lions?
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.”
Yoshimar Yotun could take over as a star for the Lions.