Orlando City midfielder Kevin Molino looked like he was floating a half-inch above the ground as he dashed between one defender and then a second before touching a pass to a teammate and darting toward the goal.
The Trinidadian’s run was too fast for the teammate to recognize — Molino’s speed of thought a step ahead of those on the field around him — but more important than his swift movement was Molino’s obvious joy as he sprinted around the field at Sylvan Lake Park.
Nine months after he crumpled to the Citrus Bowl turf during a friendly game on May 2 against Brazilian team Ponte Preta, Molino was back doing what he loved most and he barely could contain a smile on the field.
“Every time I do something, I put my heart into it and always want to smile and show people it’s the beautiful game you play, so enjoy it while it lasts,” Molino said. “It’s not going to be here forever. There will come a point in my career I have to hang up my boots, so as much as possible, I try to enjoy it and make the most out of it.”
Molino likely won’t be hanging up his boots any time soon, a relief after the first major injury of his career.
The midfielder has proved his value to Orlando City since joining the Lions in 2011, most notably being named USL most valuable player in 2012 and 2014. The latter year, Lions coach Adrian Heath urged Molino to be a player with more of a nose for the net, and he promptly set the USL scoring record with 20 goals and a league-high nine assists.
Molino stayed with Orlando City despite offers from other MLS teams, a loyalty that stuck with Heath when he saw the 25-year-old get injured just seven games into the season.
“My love of him would override what it meant to us [on the field],” Heath said. “I was just so worried for him. The fact that we were losing the player, yeah it was a big blow for us, but I just want him to go and have the career I know he can have. This has set him back a year, but it doesn’t stop where he can go.”
Molino’s ability stands out immediately to teammates.
Kaká quickly took to Molino last season and famously put on Molino’s No. 18 jersey as a goal-scoring celebration to honor Molino after the knee injury. David Mateos, who spent several years at Real Madrid, was stunned by Molino’s level when he first saw his teammate play this preseason.
“I’ve said to people at home in England, Kevin Molino can go and train at any Premier League team in England and not be out of his depth,” Heath said. “You don’t say that about many players.”
For now, Molino simply wants to show what he can do in MLS.
After seeing his season end prematurely last year just as his connection with Kaká was blossoming, Molino is eager to get another shot at the league. He looks like he has not lost a step, but Molino wants the payoff for the work he put in to get back to this level. And he treasures every little detail of being on the field again.
“It has been a long road,” Molino said. “I’m the type I need to train every day; I need to do something. To be in the locker room six, seven months without going onto the grass is very difficult, but mentally I was up for the challenge, ready to go.
“And I’m just happy to be back here with the guys outside training in the sun, fighting for a position, coming and eating breakfast with them, and laughing and joking and being amongst my family again.” (Orlando Sentinel, March 5th, 2016)