Kaka retirement ends a long run of greatness

The symbol of MLS soccer in Orlando has concluded his remarkable career.

Kaka, 35, had already announced in October he’d not be returning to Orlando City, and on Sunday he used social media to confirm his decision to retire as a player.

Born Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite in Gama, Brazil, Kaka came to MLS in 2014 as its highest-paid player ($7.2 million guaranteed compensation) after playing club ball for Sao Paulo, AC Milan, and Real Madrid.

He and the Lions quickly established their presence in the city, finishing second in league attendance with average crowds of 32,847 (in 2015) and 31,324 (2016) at Camping World Stadium before moving last March into Orlando City Stadium, to which they drew 25,028 fans per game (capacity 25,500).

Kaka wasn’t able to steer the Lions into the playoffs despite scoring 24 goals and notching 22 assists in 92 games. He was an All-Star in each of his three seasons and was named MVP of the 2015 All-Star Game in which the MLS squad beat Tottenham Hotspur, 2-1.

With his three-year contract due to expire at the end of the 2017 season, Kaka announced in October he would not sign a greatly reduced, non-DP deal. At a press conference team CEO Alex Leitao said, “[Kaka’s] cycle ends with us, for me in particular, its a very different feeling and different moment. The cycle started 16 years ago. We met when he was 19 years old, a very talented guy and character. I thought he would be a great football player and professional. Fortunate enough and an honor that he joined us for this project.”

Kaka’s numbers dropped each season he played in MLS. In 2017, he started 17 of 23 games he played, scored six goals and recorded five assists. He came to MLS after being left off Brazil’s squad for the 2014 World Cup, which it hosted, and was recalled later that year by new manager and former teammate Dunga. An injury forced him off his nation’s squad for the 2016 Copa America Centenario, leaving him with 92 caps and 29 international goals.

At the press conference in October he expressed his appreciation and fondness for the club and a willingness to return.

“The door is always open for me and I love this club and these guys and to be here,” he said. “We never know what can happen. Maybe I can come back as an ambassador or coach or GM. I hope in the future we can cross paths again.”
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