ORLANDO, Fla. – When Orlando City SC traded away popular midfielder Darwin Ceren to San Jose in August in exchange for Argentinean Matias Perez Garcia, a lot of Lions fans raised more than an eyebrow at the transaction.
They should just have asked Kaká if they wanted a reason for it, however.
If there is one player who has benefitted most from the acquisition of the diminutive Perez Garcia, it is Orlando’s star Designated Player. He even said as much this week as the team prepared for Saturday’s big home game with Columbus Crew SC (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
Kaká pinpointed Perez Garcia’s extra mobility and creative spark right across the midfield line in the attacking third as crucial to the team’s progress under head coach Jason Kreis in recent weeks, which have seen the team edge back above the all-important red line in the Eastern Conference.
Kreis has deployed the 31-year-old attacker in different positions almost every time, but Perez Garcia is seldom far away from the Orlando captain and the two have formed a solid rapport.
“[Perez Garcia] is helping me a lot,” Kaká said. “He is a very talented player. His technique, his ability, his creativity, everything that he puts on the field is good.
“For me it’s also good because I have someone to change this position and [allow me to] be forward most of the time. After he arrived, I scored more goals, so that’s good for me and good for the team.”
The Lions have gone 2-2-2 since Perez Garcia started his first game for them, with Kaká scoring five times in that spell while Perez Garcia chalked up two assists in the 4-1 win at Montreal last week.
It is a boost that has not gone unnoticed by many of Orlando’s players, and defender David Mateos believes it has been a win-win situation for the team, with both Kaká and Perez Garcia looking rejuvenated by the formations that allow the newcomer to help carry some of the attacking load.
“I think we made a very good signing with him,” said Mateos. “It has really helped Kaka lead the team because Matias has helped with many parts of the attacking game. Beforehand, it was always Kaká taking the set-pieces, but now Matias is helping with some of the free kicks and corners, so that is pretty good.
“He has played two years in MLS so he has experience and he understands the league. It also helps that he speaks Spanish and they can communicate better. He is one player with top quality with the ball, he can receive on the right, on the left, in the middle, he can play different positions, and he has made an impact for us every time. The first day he came here, he took the ball and you could see how important he would be for the team.”
In addition to the obvious contributions Perez Garcia has made for Orlando City, there is a lot of hard graft that might not be noticed by the fans but is certainly appreciated by Mateos and the back line.
“It is not so much what he does on the ball, but if you see in games he runs a lot without the ball," said Mateos. "He helps the team on defense, he helps on the right back, on the left back, and with Servando [Carrasco] and Antonio [Nocerino] in the middle. So he is playing another important role, because it means Kaká can stay a little bit deep and doesn’t need to get fatigued coming back for the ball.
“Matias is also intelligent in that he knows where the ball is going and he can be in position in both offense and defense. At the moment, he is one important player for us and we need him to keep doing this job.”
For Kaká, the last six games of the regular season have the team in position to be playing meaningful soccer beyond October 23, and he is very aware they need to maintain the progress and consistency they have been building up in recent weeks.
“I think the team is in the right way, getting better in the right moment of the season,” said Kaka. “We are getting to the playoffs and, if we get the last sprint now, probably we will make the playoffs and we will arrive there in a very good situation.”