ORLANDO, Fla.—With Orlando City SC stuck in a major slump, their playoff hopes hanging by a thread, Kaká is conducting an intervention. The captain plans to shoulder more of the load, taking a more vocal role in getting his teammates back on track.
Kaká's pronouncements followed an internal heart-to-heart before Thursday’s training session. The players and coaching staff spoke freely, clearing the air as they aim to rectify a 1-6-2 run that has dropped the Lions to eighth in the Eastern Conference. Orlando is tied on points with New York City and Montreal for the final playoff spot, but the Lions and NYCFC have each played four more games than the Impact.
“It has been a tough period for us, but I love this kind of crisis because it means you have to find a solution,” Kaká said. “Our target is still the playoffs. We have to believe [it is possible] and that we can find a solution.
“I think I have an important responsibility for this, to carry the team and find ways to lift the players. For me, it is a time to prepare better and be more vocal. Most of the guys are young and have never had this situation before, but I tell them that this experience is a great opportunity to learn and push through.”
Orlando’s big-name Designated Player said the meeting was positive. Everyone had the chance to participate, suggesting ways to get the Lions back to the form that had them as high as third in the East during June.
“It was very good as everybody had something to say to improve things and get better,” Kaká said. “Mostly, I think we have lost some confidence, which happens when things don’t go well for a period. So it is important for them to know that even if they make mistakes, it happens; it is not the end. It is nice when you can teach them some things like this. I tell them: you learn about yourself in a tough period.
“We also can’t forget this is our first season. It is good to be part of this, with new things and new challenges. I have never really been in this situation before myself, so it is good for me as well. But things like this make me stronger. We have to be strong mentally to be supportive of the team and your teammates.”
The Brazilian ace insists he will be more demonstrative in a bid to get the best out of Orlando’s younger players, who have struggled in recent weeks.
“At this moment, I think I have to speak a little bit more,” Kaká added. “I don’t like to speak too much, but I want them to know and see what I am doing, what I am trying to do. Even if I have won many things in soccer before, I still want to win here, and this is the time to say something now.
“We are a team, so if there are three players marking me, someone else in our team is going to be free, so we have to find this kind of solution. Everybody needs to know exactly what they have to do.”
Head coach Adrian Heath was encouraged by the meeting, which carried over into a lively training session.
“We have had a good chat with the guys and we think we’re still in this,” he said. “If we can win our home games and pick up some points away, we have a chance. We needed to have one or two people getting things off their chest, but now it’s a case of 'talk is cheap.' We need to see the action.”
Heath was also quick to point out that any potential playoff push would be a result of a comprehensive effort from the entire squad, not just Kaká lifting the group.
“Ricky [Kaká] is the obvious focus surrounding this club, but it can’t just be him," Heath said. "This can’t be an individual game, it is collective – the coaching staff included.
“I think we have to get more intensity. People tend to drop off when they have little knocks and other setbacks, so it’s a case of getting them to step it up again. What we don’t want to do is let the season fizzle out. We need to find every bit of intensity we can to finish it off well.”