Kaká - Orlando City - close-up during warm-ups - September 2017
USA Today Sports

Kaká's gone -- now what? Orlando City begin search for new star

ORLANDO, Fla. – While the dust had barely settled from Wednesday’s announcement that Kaká will not be back for Orlando City SC in 2018, the big question for the Lions is what – or rather who – is next.

After three years of one of the greatest players in the history of the game as the face of their franchise and senior Designated Player, the team must now start from square one in bringing in a replacement. For CEO Alex Leitão, the most important objective will be to guide Orlando to the playoffs for the first time in club history.

“It definitely helps that Kaká made his decision now and that we have time to start looking,” he said after the club’s press conference on Wednesday. “This is the biggest challenge for us now as a team, and the search is definitely under way.

“We are only two days into the process but we are confident that this gives us a good chance of finding the right player for next season, and beyond. We will be able to look at all our options and consider not only who is the right player but also the right person for our club.”

While not tipping his hand at this early stage, Leitão indicated that the Lions would be looking for a player to fill a similar role to Kaká on the field, a playmaking No.10 who can score as well as create.

The former World Player of the Year has 24 goals and 22 assists in his 74 games in MLS with two games remaining in the regular season, including Sunday’s big farewell match against Columbus Crew SC (5 pm ET; MLS LIVE). But, as the highest-earning player on the team, it does give Orlando some financial leeway in their search.

“Yes, that is the case,” Leitão acknowledged. “But we will be looking for the right player primarily. We have always said we wanted to be a big team in MLS terms, and we can now be justified in keeping our search quite wide. It is also a discussion our general manager and head coach will be fully involved in.”

For GM Niki Budalic and coach Jason Kreis, it will be a major topic in the weeks ahead, even prior to the conclusion of the season. Kreis also believes they have a head start in the search after Kaká’s early announcement, and he revealed that it is has been on his agenda for some time.

“Yes, it certainly does [help],” the coach said. “It certainly gives us more of an idea of what that blueprint is going to look like, what positional needs we have to fill and how much in terms of finances we’re going to have to fill them. And that role is something we’ve identified that we need and want.

“We want to have somebody that’s a real focal point for our offense, that’s a real focal point for our possession, and we’ve actually been looking for that player for a long time now. We’ve always known that Ricky’s career was going to be over sometime soon, so we have been looking for that player for a while, and it is certainly now extremely clear that we must address it this offseason.”

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