With Kaka ruled out for 6 weeks, Orlando City faces a tactical dilemma
After initial fears that Kaka’s injury on Sunday could be a serious long-term injury, the club confirmed Monday he will be out six weeks. The injury is not as bad as it could’ve been, but it still creates some tough decisions for coach Jason Kreis already in the first week of the MLS season.
Kaka exited Sunday’s season opener vs. New York City FC after just 11 minutes due to an apparent hamstring pull. Afterward, Kreis said the injury looked “pretty serious” but the club told FOX Sports on Monday that it is a “grade 1-2” strain on his left hamstring, which is relatively minor, and he’s expected to miss a month and a half.
For six weeks, however, the Lions will have to make do without their captain. Though Kaka hasn’t had a spectacular two seasons in Orlando, he has been solid and played a key role in pulling the attack together. He has nine goals in each of his two MLS seasons, and last year he had a team-high 10 assists and notching seven 7 assists in 2015.
After Kaka went down early on Sunday, Kreis brought in Giles Barnes, who has showed glimpses of being a starting-caliber player, if not for his inconsistency. But the substitute came up with a crucial assist, lofting a cross to the back post that Cyle Larin rose up and headed into goal.
Still, the worrying part of Kaka’s injury is not the final score but how Orlando looked after he exited the pitch. It seemed to fundamentally change Orlando’s tactical approach as they began to bypass the midfield and play more direct. Barnes did what he needed to do on the day for the most part, but wasn’t able to make the midfield work cohesively the way Kaka does. In other words, possession was harder to come by without Kaka on the pitch.
Pragmatism ultimately won out on the day as Orlando beat New York City, 1-0, and it was a long ball from Barnes that helped do it. But the question is whether Orlando can succeed that way going forward for as long as Kaka is out. It’s up to Kreis to figure out how to get the most out of an attack that was built, to some extent, around Kaka and hope another injury doesn’t pop up for the soon-to-be 35-year-old.
One week into the season and Orlando already can’t catch a break, but just how much it will hurt them remains to be seen.