MLS Expansion Bowl offers a taste of things to come

It was the moment they had waited for. 62,510 Orlandoans crammed into the citrus bowl to witness first hand their teams’ Major League Soccer debut and to gaze at a true Brazilian superstar line out in that team.

Kaká, the Ballon D’Or winning former Milan and Real Madrid playmaker, was under the microscope as Orlando’s designated player and the league’s highest paid ($7.3 million salary) newly acquired player.


With Orlando trailing to fellow newcomers New York City FC nearing the end of the game, Kaká stood over a free kick just outside the penalty area. The fans demanded some intervention and Kaká delivered it, via a horribly deflected shot that gave Orlando an equaliser in the nineteenth minute.

Not that it bothered the 32 year-old, who raced jubilantly towards his adoring public, fingers pointed to the sky in trademark fashion.

In a meeting of the two expansion franchises, New York were evidently content to sit back and play with caution. Former Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis is looking to build on a solid structure defensively and they gave little away apart from long distance shots. Orlando dominated the ball and territory, particularly in the first half (54% possession) but struggled to force too many openings.

Kaká was conspicuously a feature of the first hour in this game, at times playing as a second striker, but also dropping into pockets of space to supply the front three. He still has the glorious close control, vision and deceptive pace that was synonymous with his Milan days, and was given licence to move freely to effect the game in areas he pleased.

Orlando’s front four combined impressively. Lewis Neal and Kevin Molino used their pace to support Carlos Rivas. Rivas is quick and very powerful, and he proved a decent foil for those behind him.

Not overawed by Kaka, they worked in tandem with the Brazilian. Often a great player can come in and raise the standards of those around him. Brek Shea was a good attacking option from left back.

There were signs of some clever attacking moves, presumably worked on the training field. The move would usually revolve around Kaka finding Rivas with a crisp pass, with Rivas then shifting the ball off at pace to an on rushing runner. It will certainly be a source of encouragement for the rest of the season based on the initial two halves of football.

New York’s marquee addition David Villa cut an isolated figure. It wasn’t for the want of trying. Villa made sharp darts in behind the Orlando centre-backs, but was not found by a teammate. He was forced to come short to receive possession too often.

The gap between New York’s midfield and Villa will be a source of worry for coach. He will need better supply and some support from midfield if he is to prosper. He worked diligently and was involved in teeing up Mix Diskerud for his goal.

After edging ahead, New York largely frustrated Orlando, breaking up play and keeping possession. Villa dropped deep as an extra midfielder and it alleviated the one way pressure from Orlando. His attacking game was nullified. The planned arrival of Frank Lampard in July will alleviate the pressure on the Spaniard’s shoulders.

All in all, both sides can be reasonably happy with a draw. Orlando, despite owning the ball for much of the game, will still feel like they’ve avoided a bullet. New York will be happy to gain a point, safe in the knowledge that much improvement is needed. Kaká, despite the deflection, is already looking at home in MLS.

The Author

Conor Kelly

Conor Kelly is a Dublin based football writer and podcaster. He can be heard on the Final Third, a Dublin football podcast on soundcloud and iTunes. He has written for numerous sites including French Football Weekly, Premier League Owl and Has been writing for Back Page Football occasionally since May 2013.

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