Stories of the Year: New York City FC, Orlando City make huge splashes with international stars

MLSsoccer.com polled 22 of our editors, writers, videographers, statistics specialists and social media masters to bring you the Stories of the Year, our annual look at the biggest storylines from the outgoing year in Major League Soccer. Contributor Dan Itel shines a light on the bigtime players coming to MLS in 2015.

Orlando City president Phil Rawlins said it all while introducing Brazilian star Kaka as the expansion club’s first Designated Player.

“Today,” he said, “we put MLS on notice.”

Those bold words effectively summed up what was a wild month of June for MLS’s 2015 expansion teams. Kaka’s signing came on the heels of New York City FC adding two of their own megastars in English legend Frank Lampard and Spain’s all-time leading scorer, David Villa, and suddenly the league had three new marquee names gearing up for 2015.

Not only were the three signings evidence that there is nothing “expansion” about NYCFC and Orlando, but it also ratcheted up the MLS arms race for some of the world’s best players.

For the respective clubs, the players have already begun making their impacts.

Hundreds of supporters at the Orlando airport greeted Kaka, the 32-year-old former FIFA World Player of the Year and 2002 World Cup winner with Brazil, with a rockstar-like reception. The signing culminated a lengthy flirtation sparked by Kaka’s previous business relationship with Orlando City co-owner Flavio Augusto da Silva and energized an already rabid fan base from the outgoing USL PRO side.

It’s clear that adding a household name from Brazil and Europe – where he starred at AC Milan and Real Madrid – was not only a shot across the league’s bow, but also a step toward transforming Orlando City into an international brand.

"We not only brought a Brazilian superstar, we brought a world superstar," Rawlins said.

For New York City FC, there’s no questioning the impact and relevance  that Lampard and Villa bring to a market that has been home to French legend Thierry Henry for four years.

Villa – who won a World Cup with Spain in 2010 – became NYCFC’s first-ever signing on June 2.

“We’re incredibly excited to be where we are today, and we truly believe there’s no player more fitting to be a New York City FC player and a perfect first signing for our club,” NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna said at the time. “David ticked off all the boxes – he scores goals, creates goals, he leads the line up front and he’s a leader. Where he’s at in his career, playing at the highest level, for us it was an easy fit.”

Lampard followed later that month, giving NYCFC two players they say are the complete package, providing name recognition, talent and leadership. They give head coach Jason Kreis – who left Real Salt Lake after the 2013 season to learn the ropes with Manchester City for a year – two key pieces for his high-pressure system.

“I came to this club thinking about what a terrific opportunity it could be. Now I’m seeing that starting to come to its fruition,” Kreis said. “To have the opportunity to work with a player like Frank Lampard and a player like David Villa is like a dream come true for a coach like myself.”

Though it has not all gone completely according to plan – Reyna is in England right now trying to learn when Lampard will join the club next season – it’s clear neither club is interested in bringing in empty jerseys.

Lampard is still thriving in England while on loan with Chelsea, and Villa suited up for Spain at the World Cup for the third consecutive cycle.

“We’re here to play serious soccer,” Lampard said this summer, “and to try to win something.”