ORLANDO, Fla. — Kevin Molino is not essential to Orlando City SC’s ability to win games. Head coach Jason Kreis wants to make that clear right up front.
But the Trinidadian international is definitely developing into a major asset, and Kreis certainly hopes to have him back in the lineup for Sunday’s game at the Chicago Fire (4 pm ET, UniMás, MLS LIVE in Canada). That’s when the Lions urgently need to get back in the points to keep their playoff hopes from stalling.
Molino was a late scratch with a hamstring injury from last weekend’s disappointing 3-1 home defeat by Seattle, and it was clear the team lost some of its attacking potency without the slender, five-foot-eight midfielder in the lineup.
He is already a fan favorite from the team’s USL days, but observers around the league are fast becoming acquainted with the quick-footed verve Molino displays on the ball. He also enjoys a seemingly instinctive relationship with Brazilian ace Kaká. In fact it’s probably highly appropriate that if you combine the two into the portmanteau “Kalino,” you get a Hawaiian word for “brilliant one” — which effectively sums up the result of their combination play.
Molino was back in full training again this week, and, while coach Kreis wasn’t releasing too many pre-game lineup secrets on Friday, he was ready to admit his Caribbean spark plug could be ready to go again at Toyota Park.
“I would never want anybody to think that because we didn’t have Kevin Molino, we couldn’t win the game. I don’t believe that at all,” Kreis said. “But I do think Kevin’s an important player. From my point of view, he just has a knack for being in good positions in the attacking half of the field, and he has a knack for finding himself in effective spaces and making good choices with the ball, to help us create goal-scoring chances and to score some himself.
“He is also a developing player and it is interesting to say that for a 26-year-old. You wouldn’t typically say that [of a regular player of that age]. But, in his soccer background and development, he is not a typical player, and so he has the mindset as well that he still needs to learn and improve, which I think is an incredible characteristic in players.”
With the arrival last week of Matias Perez Garcia from San Jose in a trade that took Darwin Ceren in the opposite direction, Kreis now has a much greater combination of attacking midfield options. He says he is considering the idea of playing Perez Garcia alongside Kaká and Molino in what could be a formidable offensively inclined trio.
Finding the right balance from this new array of attack-minded players is still the key for the Lions head coach. But he says he’s happy he now has the right personnel at his disposal, and he does not intend to make wholesale changes in the way Orlando plays.
“Our idea is to just make slight tweaks around our shape and maybe a little bit philosophically about how we approach matches. Within that, it is a certainly consideration to play all three of those guys at once,” Kreis said. “We have a little bit of a different look if we play guys like Brek Shea, Hadji Barry or Carlos Rivas in those positions as well, so I feel like with the addition of Matias, we literally have two players in all three of those spots underneath the high striker.”
Returning to the subject of Molino, Kreis remains critical of some aspects of the Trinidadian’s game. But he’s convinced there are signs of improvement, and that could mean a lot more for opponents to handle in future.
“I think it’s important to have players that can do different things with the ball for sure," Kreis said. “So I think [with Molino] it’s a positive. It brings us some diversity in how we attack.
“From the defensive side of things, as we’ve already said, that’s where he needs the biggest part of his development, and so it is something he needs to focus on improving. That’s how we see it; he is not the finished all-round product, but he’s definitely moving in that direction.”