ORLANDO, Fla. — Matias Perez Garcia knows he is not Kaká. The Orlando City SC captain is not the kind of player you simply replace on a one-to-one basis, but it will be up to the Argentine midfielder to do his best Brazilian impression against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
With the Lions’ talisman sidelined for at least six weeks with the hamstring injury that saw him make an early exit from Orlando’s season-opening win over New York City FC, the team will have to get creative to fill such a big void over the next few games.
Head coach Jason Kreis admits it will take a big collective effort, but, ultimately, it could come down to Perez Garcia taking over the No. 10 role and inspiring his teammates. The diminutive ace certainly seems ready to step up from a leadership perspective as he recently sounded a rallying cry for the team to continue their winning ways.
“I put on my Instagram page that this last game was a final,” he explained, via the team’s interpreter. “The reason why I did that is because, as a team, we decided we were going to play every game [this season] as a final.
“That was our first game at the new stadium, so to us, that is behind us, but now this next game, we’re going to play it as if it’s a final as well.”
That is just the kind of talk Kreis wants to hear from his men as they look to pick up where they left off from the season opener two weeks ago after last weekend’s game in New England was postponed due to extreme cold.
“It sounds like the player is saying the same thing – that every single game is critically important to this group,” the Orlando coach said. “Whether Kaká is on the field, whether Kaká is not on the field, all of our players this year should go about this with a mentality that it’s an opportunity for us that will go away unless we grasp it, that we have a different hunger level this year to perform in every game and to give back to the fans what they’ve given us for the last two years.”
Exactly how the Lions re-shape their attacking options will be kept under wraps, but it seems clear Orlando newcomer Giles Barnes will come into the starting lineup after making an impact off the bench last weekend, with Perez Garcia taking a more central role behind Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas.
“We are working with all of the attacking players in the different roles for the four players that are most advanced in the field,” Kreis added. “And it’s important that all four understand what their responsibility is when they are caught in those positions.
“We want some rotation, we want the players to feel like they can push forward, so the midfielders can play as forwards for a bit and the forwards can play as midfielders. We saw quite a bit of rotation against New York City and we want that to continue, so there will be different players in different positions during the game.”