ORLANDO, Fla.- Kaká admitted the early-evening phone call was “a big surprise.” For his Orlando City SC head coach Adrian Heath, it was “a bitter-sweet moment.” But there was no disguising the sense of all-round delight for the great Brazilian at his sudden call-up for Copa America, which kicks off next week.
Kaka was having a meal with friends on Thursday evening when the call came through that Brazil needed him to replace the injured Douglas Costa in their Copa squad, having ruled him out of their 23-man roster on May 5.
And Orlando’s 34-year-old Designated Player freely confessed that it came out of the blue, even though he had been named in the initial 40-man selection and already has 91 caps to his name.
“Every time I go to the national team it’s good, but this one is different because it was a big surprise,” he said. “I didn’t expect it, so it was fun. Now I am 34 and still playing for the national team. It is a big thing for me. I am so happy. I don’t know how long I can play for, but I am fit and ready to play as many games as I can.
“This is very good because I have never played Copa America before, and playing the first one here in the US and in Orlando, it will be the first time in my career I will be playing for the national team in my own stadium in front of my own supporters. It’s going to be awesome for me, a great, great experience.”
The downside for the Lions is that Kaká is flying to join the Brazil squad in Los Angeles while a depleted Lions team is preparing for Sunday’s game at New York City FC minus suspended duo Cristian Higuita and David Mateos, injured pair Rafael Ramos and Darwin Ceren, and with defender Seb Hines still only “day-to-day” with his knee problem.
“I heard last night and it was obviously a bitter-sweet moment,” the head coach explained. “Obviously we can ill afford to be without more players, especially somebody who has been as instrumental and prominent as Kaká has been lately. But on the other side, we are delighted for him. We know how much it means for him and he’s really happy to have the call-up.
“He is still a huge star in Brazil and I was a little bit surprised when he got left out of the 23, but it is really pleasing for him to think he’s replacing Douglas Costa, who’s probably one of the best players in the world at the moment. He’s certainly earned his call-up and I have no doubt that if they turn to him, he will deliver on the field.”
Brazil will certainly be getting a highly-motivated and in-form player who could also be a major box office boon after building a significant profile in the U.S. in the past 18 months.
“I am happy with my game and I think I have raised my level this year,” Kaká insisted. “I said when the season started that I wanted to increase my numbers, and it’s happening. I’m happy with what I’m doing, especially in the last few games. I have been able to help my team with a very active role and some assists, so it’s a good moment to go to the national team.
“And it’s going to be awesome to play Haiti here in Orlando on June 8. We know this is a soccer city already and, with a lot of Brazilians living here, the atmosphere will be amazing and I’ll be excited to play this game.”
Kaká also believes his call-up is a notable fillip for the league after the surprise omission of Sebastian Giovinco from the Italian squad for the 2016 Euros competition, amid the critical and fiercely debated comments from the Azzurri head coach Antonio Conte.
“I think it’s very good for the league,” Kaká added. “It shows there are players playing at a high level and anyone watching MLS can see that the league is competitive and players here can still play for a big national team like Brazil.
“It’s also good to have an Orlando City player representing their national team in Copa America this year when the tournament is being played here. It’s a very positive thing.”
Heath echoed his comments, insisting that the level of competition has forced his star man to raise his game and put in some of his most consistent work in several years
“I think the most important thing is that Ricky has maintained a level this season that has been absolutely superb,” Heath insisted. “When we look at the distances he’s covered, the high-intensity runs he has put in, it has been as good as anybody in the league. That’s testimony to the work he’s put in during the offseason.”
With four first-choice players already out of Sunday’s big TV showpiece at Yankee Stadium (4:30 pm ET on ESPN in USA and MLS LIVE in Canada), it does leave Heath with a headache against a team that will be eager to bounce back from last weekend’s 7-0 rout at home to the New York Red Bulls.
“It’s not ideal,” the head coach admitted. “But we knew this week was going to be really tough, to play Saturday and Wednesday already, but we can’t use it as an excuse. We have to get on with it and every member of our playing pool has to prepared, if they’re called upon, to deliver.
“I have every faith that whoever comes in this weekend will give a good account of themselves. Some of the people who will get an opportunity this weekend are the ones who have been knocking on my door for three or four weeks asking the question, ‘Why am I not playing?’ Well, some of them will now get their chance.”
Each of Antonio Nocerino, Harrison Heath and Julio Baptista could be lined up for a starting role on Sunday, while the likes of Luke Boden, Conor Donovan and Hadji Barry could also make an appearance, with second place in the Eastern Conference up for grabs.