ORLANDO, Fla. – Call it unfinished business, professional integrity or just sheer frustration. But Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite wants it to be known there will be hell to pay if Orlando City SC isn’t a playoff team this time next year.
That is about as determined and outspoken as Orlando's captain – otherwise known as Kaká – has been in his two years with the team to date
In a season in which he has made 23 appearances, scored eight goals and chalked up eight assists, Kaká is not happy with sitting on the wrong side of the red line for the second year in a row. Orlando play their final game at Camping World Stadium on Sunday against D.C. United (4 pm ET; MLS LIVE). But the great Brazilian was already looking ahead as much as back at the last two years when he spoke to the media on Thursday.
Kaká said there is no doubt in his mind that he will definitely be back for 2017, but that he wants to see some significant changes.
In the first instance, he wants greater all-round commitment from his teammates, and a club-wide dedication to creating a winning culture.
“The most important thing we need to change for next season is our mentality,” Kaká said. “We need to have a winning mentality and this will change a lot of things. It is different when I just want to win and I can sacrifice something for winning. So this is what I expect for the next season, for the players, for the staff, that we really want to sacrifice something [to reach] our targets.
“In my opinion, the club needs to set some targets for the team, and the coach needs to put some goals and some inside competition. I think it’s fair, and when it is fair competition it is very good for everybody, to put some pressure on us. This is something we need to improve, to get better for the next season, and challenge us to do better.”
The playmaker has experienced that at nearly every previous stop in his career, and the lack of tangible progress on the field with Orlando clearly chafes at the former World Player of the Year, even given the extenuating circumstances with injuries, international call-ups and a change of head coach.
Kaká has been happy with his own form, but disappointed with the series of niggling injuries that sidelined him for almost half of the season's first 20 games. On the plus side, he has started the last 13 in a row, and he insists he is still raring to go for the final season of his three-year deal with the Lions.
“I am still ready and I want to win every game,” he said. “Unfortunately this season I had a few injuries, small injuries, but they took me out of some games. It is part of the game and it is something I can’t control, but next season I will try to get better, physically.
“Next season we have to get to the playoffs, because to stay out and be watching the other teams playing, it is very hard for me.”
Kaká fully expects the Lions to hit the reset button to a certain extent in the next few months, and then to come back to life in the preseason with a mixture of new players and a longer, more consistent learning period under coach Jason Kreis.
“For now, this is a period where we are going to have to wait,” he added. “The coach and the club will work in the offseason on the players who are going to leave and the players who are going to come [in], so we will see what happens. But in these last few games, I think Jason showed us a little of what he wants and what he expects for next season.”
Kreis wants a more defensive-minded, high-pressing team that more closely fits the mold of the one he created at Real Salt Lake, and that suits Kaká down to the ground. Orlando's last three games have been a 0-0 draw, 1-0 loss, and 2-0 win, and, if they can finish off with a flourish on Sunday, there will be a small but definite amount of satisfaction in the group.
As for his own future, the Brazilian remains highly motivated, and especially energized at the thought of the Lions' neww, natural-grass stadium.
“Let’s think about next year and we will see after that what I can do,” he said. “Next year is so important for this club, with this stadium, so it’s important for the players and the supporters to feel that it is our home. I know they feel that here [at Camping World Stadium], but when the thing is yours, it is different to when you rent something.
“I am happy to be part of this and to be here one more year. And we will see if I can play for more than the one [more year].”
Kreis remains convinced there is still more to come from Kaká. He wants his star Designated Player on the field as much as possible, but he doesn’t necessarily see 2017 as his swan song.
“Ricky remains an extremely hungry player,” the head coach said. “I’ve spoken to him and I know that for a fact, and that he would never want to finish his career by being part of a team that would miss the playoffs. That would be a big objective of his, as it will for every member of the group next year … We need to begin to represent ourselves and give the fans what they deserve here.”