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Kaka Embracing Pressure and Leadership Role in 1st Year at Orlando City

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistAugust 6, 2015

Jul 22, 2015; Bridgeview, IL, USA; Orlando City FC midfielder Kaka (10) smiles prior to the game against the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Making a lasting impact at a club in just five months is a tough task for many, but Orlando City star Kaka has thrived in his playmaking role for the expansion side in Major League Soccer. 

In 21 matches for the Lions this season, Kaka has contributed nine goals and four assists to a club in contention for one of the six play-off positions in the Eastern Conference. 

“It’s not easy, but it’s been a challenge for us to put these 25 players together and create a team. I think our coach [Adrian Heath] is doing a very good job. I’m happy where the team is at. Hopefully at the end of the season we can at least celebrate [a berth in the] playoffs," the Brazilian told Bleacher Report recently.

One of the key shifts in the player's mindset since starting his first game in purple has helped him produce for the club and lead by example. The highest paid player in the league, per the MLS Players Union salary database, is using the pressure to succeed as a positive. 

“Everywhere that I’ve played, there’s been this type of pressure. Sao Paulo, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Brazil national team. I’m used to this situation," Kaka said.

Jun 24, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando City SC midfielder Kaka (10) celebrates after he scores a goal during the second half against the Colorado Rapids at Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium. Orlando City SC defeated Colorado Rapids 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim K
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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"Now with more maturity and experience, I can convert this pressure into motivation. It’s not a negative thing now for me. It’s a positive thing, so I can work on that and take this as motivation for every game," he continued. 

The former FIFA World Player of the Year is not the only one putting in impressive performances week in and week out for Orlando City. Kaka specifically pointed out a few of his teammates have also started the season well in a recent interview at Major League Soccer headquarters in New York City

“Darwin Ceren is a very good player. He’s doing a very good job. Brek Shea. I didn’t know him before so I’ve had the opportunity to play with him and he’s very good. [Kevin] Molino, who is injured, but for sure he’s going to help us in the next few years," Kaka said. 

May 17, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando City SC midfielder Kaka (10) is congratulated by teammates after he scored against the Los Angeles Galaxy during the second half at Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium. Orlando City SC defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy 4-0. M
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In his most memorable display of leadership yet, Kaka honored the injured Molino, who is out for the season with an ACL tear, by pulling on the winger's jersey after scoring a penalty in his side's 4-0 win over the LA Galaxy on May 17. 

As for the environment in Orlando, the fans are creating one of the best atmospheres in MLS by packing the Citrus Bowl for every home match. Orlando will move into a soccer-specific stadium in 2016. 

“It’s been amazing every time we play at Citrus Bowl in front of all the supporters. Every time in every moment in every situation. Our average now is 33,000 for games. This is great. It’s much more than anyone could’ve expected," Kaka said.

Although the Citrus Bowl doesn't rival the Bernabeu or San Siro in terms of its history with the beautiful game, Kaka was able to make one key comparison between the stadiums. 

Jul 11, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; A general view during the national anthem between the FC Dallas and Orlando City SC during the first half at Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s similar in a way that the supporters support the team and stay with you. The Bernabeu has 80,000. Every game we have over 30,000 and we feel the motivation, and it’s the same because it’s pushing us to win," the Brazilian said. 

One of the unique parts of life in MLS is the wide range of traveling done by each club in a season. Unlike Europe, some of the cross-country trips could be over 3,000 miles, depending on where each side is located. Instead of dreading the trips like some new players to the league have in the past, Kaka is taking a different approach.

“I’m enjoying the travel because I’ve been in cities I’ve never been in before. I can see how this league is really growing in not just one part of the country but everywhere. It’s not a problem because we travel every 10 to 15 days. It’s not a big deal," he said. 

Another issue some older players coming over from Europe face is the artificial turf at some grounds in MLS. Thierry Henry famously refused to play on the surface during his time with the New York Red Bulls. Although the turf isn't ideal, Kaka just sees it as part of the game. 

Jul 11, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; A general view of Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium during the first half between the Orlando City SC and FC Dallas . Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

“I don’t have any problem playing on turf. For sure, I prefer to play on the natural field. Our field is turf. In our new stadium, it will be natural. I have no problem to play on a turf field," the Brazilian explained. 

One oddity about MLS Kaka spoke volumes about was the parity throughout the standings. On any given day, the last-placed side in the league could spring an upset on a team such as Seattle, D.C. or LA. 

“That’s very good because it creates competition between the teams. Nobody can lay down. Nobody can just give up in the middle of the season because everyone can have a chance to be in the play-offs at the end," he said.

"I think that’s very good and for us as players it makes us ready for every game. You have to be ready for every game because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I think it’s a positive thing," Kaka continued. 

Although five months is a small sample size to judge the skill levels of certain opponents, the midfielder did go out of his way to praise a few stars he's already encountered on the MLS circuit. 

“There are some players [who have impressed me]. The midfielder of Columbus, No. 6 [Tony Tchani]. He’s a very good player. [Clint] Dempsey is very good, and [Bradley] Wright-Phillips is playing very good," Kaka said. 

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 30: Tony Tchani #6 of Columbus Crew and Kaka #10 of Orlando City SC fight for possession of the ball during the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open soccer match between the Columbus Crew and Orlando City SC at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on June 30, 2015
Alex Menendez/Getty Images

While he may be one of the top figures in MLS at the moment, Kaka is only one of a handful of Brazilians to ever set foot on an MLS pitch. He believes that is about to change for not only Brazilian stars but those coming over from Europe in their prime like Sebastian Giovinco has already. 

“Yes I think so. Here it’s creating a market. China is a big market but China is more for the money. Here is the market for the professional career. Here is going to create a lot of opportunities for South Americans, North Americans and Europeans as well and play a career of five to 10 years. I think the future is going to be a great opportunity [for foreigners] to be here," Kaka said. 

As for the status of the Brazil national team, the 33-year-old, who has 89 caps for his country, remained optimistic about the Selecao despite their recent struggles:

“[The] Brazil national team right now is a transition moment. We just came from a very tough World Cup. After that, I think Dunga did a good job winning games. But there is a long way to the next World Cup so he can still work on that. Every game, every step I think Brazil is going to bring the confidence back."

Sep 5, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Brazil head coach Dunga after defeating Columbia 1-0 at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

One way the Selecao can bring confidence back to themselves and the proud footballing nation is to win the Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Not only will the men be looking for redemption but the Brazilian women will be looking to enhance their status in the sport after an early exit at the Women's World Cup this summer.

“The Olympics would be great for us. As an event for Brazilians, it will be a great event, but in soccer, there is much more meaning because Brazil’s never won the Olympic games. So it will be a great opportunity for us to get this gold medal. For the women, I think it’s a great opportunity as well. The United States and Japan are one step ahead of us, but the motivation for the women to play at home will be a big point for us," the scorer of 29 international goals said.

As for what the future holds, Kaka decided to keep the focus on his current situation in Orlando ahead of the play-off push. 

“I don’t know. I’m focusing in the moment now. I have this year and two more [in Orlando]," he concluded. 

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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