The land of unlimited opportunities has even been able to once again amaze the legendary Kaka. 62,510 spectators flocked to the sold-out Citrus Bowl to watch his first game for Orlando City Soccer Club in the MLS, the North American professional league. A crowd that even astounded the experienced Brazilian who has won virtually every title in world football with Real Madrid, AC Milan and his national team: “Everything that happened tonight was incredible. It was a special day for everybody,” he said at the post match press conference following the 1-1 draw against New York City FC on 8 March this year.
It was a historical day for all those involved as it was the first ever league game for both clubs – and Kaka scored the first goal for Orlando City FC when converting a free kick in stoppage time. The regular season is gradually drawing to a close and Orlando is in danger of missing out on the hoped-for play-offs. Kaka however is enjoying his adventures in the much-improved MLS. In July, he was voted by the fans on the All Star Team for which he shone in the 2-1 win against the top English club Tottenham Hotspur when scoring one goal and laying on another. The reward: the captain of the All Star Team was named “Man of the Match”.
“It’s a lot more than I ever expected. I’m very happy with the way things have gone this evening. It wasn’t bad for my first All Star game. I hope I can get to enjoy other All Star games over the next few years,” said the 33-year old afterwards. After six months in the USA, he is impressed by the league, the opportunities and the standard of the football. “We’ve shown just how strong the MLS is. Everybody has seen a MLS team beat a top European club.”
Kaka intends staying a few more years in the USA. His has a high degree of identification with Orlando and his choice of the sunny city in Florida was no coincidence. “Orlando was the only place I ever wanted to go to.
It was a conscious decision,” he told the German football magazine, “11 Freunde”. In addition to the numerous attractions like Walt Disney World, Kaka is above all enjoying the chance live a life with greater freedom than in Europe.
The ground for his move was paved by his friend Alex Leitao, the CEO of Orlando City SC – the club also has a Brazilian President in Flavio da Silva. He feels at home in a city that has long been a favourite for Brazilian tourists. The link between the club and the players is perfect but Kaka does not only see the move as a brilliant marketing coup at the end of his career. “I’ll for sure not be taking things easier here. I’ve always been very ambitious and I want to win titles.”
Competition is however big. Other world stars like Frank Lampard (37/New York City FC), Steven Gerrard (35/LA Galaxy) and David Villa (33/New York City FC) also turn out in the MLS. The Spaniard is lying third in the list of top goal-scorers just ahead of Tottenham Hotspur legend Robbie Keane (35/LA Galaxy). Kaka loves the competitiveness and expects numerous younger players from top European leagues to make the move to USA in the near future. “They are all big names and their coming here is a good sign. Standards will improve as will the interest in the league. I think other players will follow them over here from Europe. Many of my friends and former teammates are already asking me about what it’s like playing here in the United States.”
After six months, the playmaker is very positive about everything. The league is booming and the interest in football in the USA is enormous. Average crowds in the MLS total about 18.500 which means football ranks behind American football and baseball as the biggest fan attraction in the USA – ahead of long-established sports like basketball or ice hockey in, at least, the average number of spectators in the stadiums per match. And merchandising revenue is exploding – last year 24.7 million TV viewers watched their country’s World Cup match against Portugal which set a new record for a football match broadcast in the USA. The United States also currently has approximately 24.5 million players ranking it No. 2 in the world. Only China (26.2) has more people playing the game competitively.
The development has led to a significant improvement of performance levels in the MLS. The standard of football is so high that Kaka still feels he is quite capable of making a comeback in the Brazilian national team. “I hope to play well here and start knocking on the door again,” he said. He has enough time, retirement can wait. He has a two-and-a-half-year contract with Orlando and an extension is not out of the question: “After that I’ll just have to see how motivated I am and listen to what my body tells me. At the moment though, the signs are good. I haven’t had an injury in a long time and I play almost every match. I can play a full ninety minutes which I’m really happy about.”