While the Orlando City Soccer Club has been preparing for its move to MLS by pursuing global stars such as the recently acquired Kaka and potential transfer Robinho, the club’s first MLS signee is having a breakout season in USL PRO.
Orlando City midfielder Kevin Molino hasn’t had a lot of time to ponder what the 2015 roster might look like while helping the Lions (14-0-4, 46 points) remain unbeaten by way of an offensive explosion unlike any in his career.
“As a player that’s already signed for MLS [in Orlando] you always wonder who will come in and who you’ll be playing with next year,” Molino said. “It’s great to see that a couple big names want to come here. It shows we’ve been doing some good over the past couple years.”
Entering Sunday’s match at Rochester, Molino leads the league in points (29) and assists (7) and ranks third in goals scored with 11 in 17 appearances.
Often humble and soft-spoken in post-match interview sessions, Molino had scored just two goals in each of the past three seasons before becoming the first of five players to sign an MLS deal with the club for 2015. The endorsement from the Lions has clearly added confidence to his game.
Molino tallied his first professional hat trick against Charlotte on May 21 then joined the Trinidad and Tobago national team for exhibition matches against Argentina and Iran as those teams prepared for the World Cup.
It was an experience he didn’t take lightly and one the 24-year old hoped to learn from as he continues to mature on the field.
“It was a fantastic experience, playing against a top-division team that’s preparing for the World Cup,” he said. “Football is all about learning. It’s like life. I look at players who play my position, whether I’m playing against them or [seeing them] on television and pick up after how they deal with certain situations and use it to try to develop my game.”
Molino is doing this season what Orlando City coach Adrian Heath has always thought he was capable of since discovering him by chance while scouting a forward in his home country.
“There was this little skinny kid on the right wing who kept catching my eye every time the ball went to him,” Heath said of the 5-foot-11, 145-pound Molino. “We were fortunate that he was out of a contract and so we brought him in here, and he’s gradually gotten better by the week. Now I think he’s close to being nearly complete. He’s starting to put goals and more assists to his game.”
It was similar to the way Heath found Darwin Ceren in El Salvador, who is also signed for 2015 and played for his national team in July against Spain and Ivory Coast. But Ceren has yet to find his footing in Orlando in the same manner as Molino as he and his family continue to get acclimated to a new language and environment.
But judging from his own experience, Molino is confident his new teammate will reap the rewards of working under the guidance of Heath, who the 2012 USL PRO Most Valuable Player credits for his successful surge.
“He’s someone that’s helped me a lot on and off the field,” Molino said of Heath. “He’s someone I have full respect for, and I’m just delightful to work with coaches like Adrian and (assistant coach) Ian Fuller. I’m just happy to be here and looking forward to going to Major League Soccer next year.”
Of course the admiration has come with a little tough love over the years as Heath has stressed the importance of being able to finish off runs and making the most of his final touch.
“I keep on Kevin about scoring goals and [creating] goals because with his ability he should be scoring 10 a season,” Heath said following a match earlier this season.
It appears the message is finally sinking in as Molino has emerged this year with a newfound purpose, one of which he hopes to carry over into the top league in North America next year.
“I want to help the team perform well, help to score goals, and be one of the top players in the league before I leave for MLS,” Molino said. “It’s a much tougher league there [in MLS] and I’ll have to go into that with even more hunger and desire.”