ORLANDO, Fla. – The return of skipper Kaká; the challenge of the reigning champs; a big Sunday night crowd; and a deadly touch in front of goal. Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath had plenty of ways to explain his team’s emphatic, 4-1 carve-up of Portland Timbers on a memorable night for the unbeaten Lions.
With two assists and a goal in his first game of the season, Kaká’s influence was clear to see, but Heath insisted his team got major contributions all over the field, not least from keeper Joe Bendik with a timely penalty save.
“That was a massive win for us,” Heath insisted. “We fully deserved it and I think some of our play at times was exceptional. We got good goals and big performances from a number of players and, if we continue to play with that intensity, it is a pretty formidable force.”
Brek Shea’s first league goal since April 28, 2012, a debut MLS strike – from the penalty spot – from Kevin Molino, and Kaká’s own sweet finish, following an assist on Seb Hines’ header, were the highlights for Orlando, but Heath was quick to point to the energizing influence of their captain.
“I think his combination play in and around the final third was excellent, and he is so difficult to mark,” the head coach added. “But we shouldn’t be surprised. He is one of the great players of the modern era and he came back in pre-season in a very good and determined mood.
“He is the leader of this group and he is going to be a big piece for us. If we want to achieve things, then he has to be a big part of it. And he showed that tonight.”
Kaká assisted on Shea’s stunning early strike, and also handed over the penalty-taking responsibilities to Molino after the Trinidadian was fouled in the 76th minute.
“He gave me the ball and just said, ‘Take your time, my friend,'” Molino explained. “I don’t want to jump ahead of myself, but it is definitely a boost to the confidence [to get my first goal], and when the chances come now, I think I’ll be ready to take them.”
Heath also wanted to make sure Bendik got his share of the plaudits for his full-length dive to turn aside Fanendo Adi’s spot-kick on the stroke of half-time.
“You can’t under-estimate the importance of Joe’s save,” he insisted. “That would have been a game-changer at that time, and I think he was outstanding overall. Whenever we have needed him this season, he has come up big for us.”