Kaka assesses early stages of his MLS odyssey
It didn't take a body language expert to figure out Kaka was frustrated in his mixed zone interview after Orlando City saw another chance of a first home victory slip through their fingers with a late goal conceded. You could see the tension in the muscles responsible for the frown he exhibited to the gathered media.
What a difference a couple match days make.
In the mid-May morning, Kaka answers the phone for a quick conversation with ESPN FC. Just a couple days after the Florida side finally broke their domestic cup with aplomb by thrashing current MLS Cup holders LA Galaxy, the mood is much less somber.
It's not that the former Balon d'Or winner all of a sudden believes everything is wonderful at the Citrus Bowl. He is hiding from nobody the satisfaction the 4-0 victory brought him and his teammates.
"I can't lie to you and say things weren't getting uncomfortable with this lack of a home victory. We lost two games that we dominated, and that was quite frustrating because the goals came in the dying minutes. So the way we behaved against Galaxy was encouraging. There's a work for us to do, but that game showed us our work is starting to pay off," he said.
Kaka is also quick to point out that the result against the L.A. side also underlines his argument that the tables don't necessarily translate the toughness of the live event in MLS.
"One thing I noticed here is that the likelihood of any team beating the other is much higher than anywhere else I've played. It's quite curious that a lot of teams also score between the 85th and 95th minute, which means that switching off could punish you dearly. Like we learned."
Three months into his first season in the United States, Kaka does not seem surprised with his team's fortunes. At time of writing, Orlando sits eighth in the Eastern Conference and out of the playoff zone, with only three wins 13 games. Given that owner Flavio da Silva has more than once said he expects the Floridans to outlive the regular season, it would be understandable to be a bit worried.
"Honestly, I don't think we are disappointing anyone. It's a new club at the league with a group of players that is pretty much gelling while the tournament is taking place," he said. "A lot of people will point out that we set out to make history here and not simply use the maiden season to acclimatise. But we stand by what we believe. And we need to deliver."
Does he believe it's possible?
"[The playoff spot] will not be delivered to us on a plate, but I think we have the quality to make them," he said. "That's what we should be thinking of at the moment. If we make the playoffs, we will feel even hungrier, and what I have seen in the other MLS games suggests we could definitely cause some trouble."
Kaka does admit, however, that Orlando might need reinforcements for larger steps next season.
"We have a young group that could benefit from two or three other players. The important thing here is that we have played some good games and shown ourselves the team is making progress," the 2007 Champions League winner said.
He also reserves some space for self-criticism. Given tactical freedom by manager Adrian Heath, the Brazilian thinks he hasn't felt totally sure about his position on the pitch.
"I am still trying to find the best role for me to play, even though I know the game these days obliges you to be much more tactically flexible. I sometimes find myself a bit too far from the box in order to reinforce midfield, for example. It's been a massive learning curve also for me."
But Kaka does find time to enjoy himself. He is particularly impressed by seeing full houses in home and away games.
"The atmosphere here is incredible, and it's very special to be part of all this. There is huge potential for the game in this country, and this popular embrace is just a side of it," he said of gamedays.
Some people back home think he shouldn't be spending June in North America. Kaka did not get in Brazil's Copa America squad for their first competitive outing since the shambolic display at the 2014 World Cup -- another competition the 2002 winner sat out, as a matter of fact.
Dunga, however, did put Kaka on an emergency list of players who could be drafted for last-minute replacements through injury. Even for a guy with his national service CV, that will do for now.
"My feelings in regards to the national team are simple: If the manager thinks I can be of use, I will be ready for the call," he said. "And I still believe I can help and that I have the quality to be in the group."
"In a way, of course I would like to be helping the Selecao win a trophy. But to be remembered was already very important. If I do a good job with Orlando in the rest of the season, I will keep on the radar.
"And by a good job, I mean helping this [franchise] achieve something quite remarkable in our first season. That would be like a trophy to me."
Fernando Duarte is a U.K.-based Brazilian football expert who has reported on the Selecao for over a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @Fernando_Duarte.