The opening weekend of Major League Soccer's 2015 season was exciting, encouraging and in many ways the spectacle plenty hoped it would be, with talking points, goals and drama aplenty throughout the 10 fixtures.
Orlando City vs. New York City typified that to some extent, with the two new MLS franchises playing out a late 1-1 draw at the Citrus Bowl in front of more than 60,000 raucous fans. David Villa and Kaka were the star names on display, but there was plenty more to the match than just those two individuals.
Despite not taking the win, the manner of the draw and Orlando's all-around approach will give fans reasons for optimism and excitement for the season ahead.
Kaka, No. 10, captain of the club.
The Brazilian legend was utilized correctly in his renowned role by Orlando, behind a center-forward and in spaces where he could collect possession and look to move toward goal. There was no "fitting in" of Kaka; he has been made the focal point for the team's progression and buildup play and the man to whom it will look to make the magic happen.
Even early on in the game when things didn't quite work out for Orlando, it was Kaka's intelligence and ability to spot gaps which led to almost-chances for Orlando. The team has a willing runner in Carlos Rivas, who provides Orlando with a fast-paced outlet to get in behind defenses with the knowledge that the Brazilian will spot him and try to make a pass.
Kevin Molino, who played wider, had a good scoring rate last season in the lower league. Runners off of the ball, ahead of Kaka, will be key to getting the best out of him over the course of the season and making sure he can be an asset on the pitch, and not just off of it.
It doesn't hurt, of course, that Kaka also scored the last-minute, heavily deflected, free-kick.
Atmosphere and Encouragement
From pre-kickoff to the full-time whistle, the support inside the Citrus Bowl was largely impressive.
Drums, rhythmic and primal, provided the backbeat of anticipation even before the first kick of the season had been taken, highlighting an expectancy to attack, to chase success, to entertain. The 62,000 purple-clad Orlando fans, countless flags, one giant tifo and a scary-looking lion made for a great atmosphere, with support audible even when Orlando was down by a goal and had a man sent off.
As for the celebrations and cheers when Kaka netted his injury-time equalizer...that's what football is really all about.
Adulation, excitement, releasing pent-up frustration in one burst of yes. Kaka has played on the world stage and won every trophy imaginable, but at the very moment his first MLS goal hit the back of the net, it still meant everything to him.
91' Kaká's free kick deflects off the wall and into the net! We are level at 1-1. The Citrus Bowl explodes! You could hear that in Miami.— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) March 8, 2015
Of course, Orlando has much to prove and to work on after its first game in MLS, but the manner in which the team came back to take a point, and the fact that it was Kaka who nailed the equalizer, via a huge deflection, will keep fans excited and wanting more.
The season is long. Will Orlando still be getting 60,000-plus fans to come to its home games when it plays the Colorado Rapids in June? It remains to be seen, of course, but the expectancy of potential (and relative) success and the chance to see the likes of Kaka in action will play a part.
Orlando must find ways of playing well when he is injured or otherwise unavailable, and forge its own MLS-era heroes, but the early indications are positive. There is a support base here. There will be backing for the team, with many recognizable shirts and a fantastic location.
Finishing in the top six of the Eastern Conference has to be the obvious aim, even if that is shooting for the stars in the team's first season. As the campaign unfolds, Orlando's strengths and areas to improve will become more apparent, but if the feel-good factor surrounding the club endures, off-field support is one immense positive that nobody within the club, or indeed the league, needs to worry about.