Orlando City say new signing Julio Baptista "fills all the criteria"

ORLANDO, Fla. – If Didier Drogba can continue to be a major goal threat for Montreal Impact at the age of 38, Adrian Heath sees no reason why 34-year-old Julio Baptista shouldn’t be a success with his Orlando City team this year.

That is the thinking behind the Lions’ signing of the veteran Brazilian this week – that and the fact Orlando currently has no like-for-like cover for young goalscoring sensation Cyle Larin.

Baptista trained with Kaká and Co. for almost two weeks earlier this month before returning to his current home in Spain, and he will be back next week once all his visa paperwork is complete and his international clearance is secured.

And head coach Heath is delighted to have ‘The Beast’ under contract, even if he admits there is some short-term thinking involved.

“We have been very aware that if Cyle was to break down for any reason, we would have been up against it,” he explained. “Bryan Rochez has not been ready to start, so this gives us a little time not to force people back earlier than necessary.

“If you look at what Drogba did for Montreal, coming in at his age, it backs up the old saying that form is temporary but class is permanent. Julio might not have the exact same impact as Drogba, but his record and history shows his value, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes in and scores goals straight away.”

Heath admits the coaching staff – and players – were impressed by what they saw of the former Real Madrid, Arsenal and Roma star in his training spell with them, even though Baptista has been dogged by injuries for the last 18 months with Cruzeiro in Brazil.

“Yes, he has had a bad year of it with injuries,” he said. “But he has been training really hard with a personal trainer in Spain, just waiting for what he classed as fully fit, and that was when he came to us, very much like when Brek Shea came here in the past.

“One thing that jumps out at you straight away is his physical presence. His nickname is very apt and the nature of his talent is undisputed. We have been looking for the right caliber of player to bring in just in case Cyle should go down, so this gives us an alternative for Cyle and another option off the bench. He fills all the criteria of what we were looking for.”

Baptista can play anywhere in the attacking third of the field, as an out-and-out striker or midfielder, and Heath insists it gives him more wrinkles to add to his offense-minded 4-2-3-1 formation.

“I know if we give him decent service in the penalty box, even now he is the totally finished article and it is not going to be a problem for him,” the head coach added. “It was never about the money in this instance, it is something that is good for both parties. He is still really motivated and still thinks he has a lot of miles left in his tank.”

Baptista’s friendship with skipper Kaká – which dates back to their early playing days with Sao Paulo as well as the Brazil national team – was instrumental in bringing him to Orlando at this stage in his career.

He stayed with Kaká during his recent training spell and he has been given a full idea of what to expect in MLS from his fellow countryman.

“Yes, they have talked a lot,” team spokesman Diogo Kotschko confirmed. “They have been good friends for many years and it is a natural step in this way.

“When Julio signed for Sevilla in Spain in 2003, Kaka went to AC Milan not long after, so they kept in touch in Europe. They both played for Brazil in the 2010 World Cup as well as the Confederations Cup in 2009 and 2005.”

Orlando’s players have already been impressed by Baptista’s presence and skills during his training stint, and fullback Rafael Ramos insisted they are eager to see more.

“He will be a great addition for us,” Ramos said. “He is clearly a very experienced player and he will help Cyle to grow as well. It can only be good for us a team.”

To clear a place on the roster for Baptista, 2016 SuperDraft first-round pick Richie Laryea will be loaned to the Orlando City B team that starts play for the first time in USL this weekend.