SPORTS

Vancouver Whitecaps know containing Kaka is paramount against Orlando City SC

03/20/2015 09:00 EDT | Updated 05/20/2015 05:59 EDT
The Vancouver Whitecaps know this weekend's opponent isn't just any expansion team.

And on the off chance they need a reminder, one look at the man wearing No. 10 for Orlando City SC should do the trick.

Brazilian great Kaka, the former Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year winner, is the captain of Orlando — one of Major League Soccer's two new franchises — and the key figure for a club that already has a win and tie in its first two outings.

"You just look at the awards and what he's accomplished throughout his career," said Whitecaps defender Steven Beitashour. "He's definitely a great player — not a good player — a great player. He drives that team.

"The guys around him will try to affect him as much as they can, (but) it's one of those things, you can't stop him, you just try to slow him down."

The highest paid player in MLS, Kaka has accomplished just about everything in soccer, having won the World Cup, the Champions League, Italy's Serie A and Spain's La Liga.

The 32-year-old attacking midfielder began the newest chapter of his storied career two weeks ago with a memorable free-kick goal in stoppage time against fellow newcomers New York City FC that salvaged a 1-1 draw in front of more than 62,000 fans at the Orlando Citrus Bowl.

Kaka's devastating right boot is always one swipe away from altering the course of a game, and Vancouver is well aware that avoiding fouls near the penalty area will be key on Saturday against a player that has 29 goals in 87 appearances for his country.

"Don't give any free kicks away. That might help," deadpanned Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson. "Look, he's a fantastic player ... fantastic ability from dead balls. If we give him a chance then he's obviously going to thrive with that."

For many of the Whitecaps, especially the Latin Americans on the team, playing against Kaka will be something to cherish.

"I'm excited to play versus Kaka. It's Kaka. I know him as my favourite player," said Uruguayan-born midfielder Nicolas Mezquida. "Playing versus him is like a dream."

But Orlando is much more than just its superstar designated player. The club has surrendered one goal over two games in front of veteran goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts in a setup that also includes midfielder/defender Brek Shea, who is back in MLS after a stint in the English Premier League.

"They're a tough team," said Robinson. "Make no doubt about any new franchise team. It's going to be tough."

The Whitecaps, meanwhile, followed up a disappointing season-opening 3-1 loss at home against Toronto FC with a hard-fought 1-0 road win last weekend against the Chicago Fire.

Robinson started Sam Adekugbe ahead of the more experienced Jordan Harvey at left back in the Chicago game, and it will be interesting to see if the 20-year-old Canadian defender retains that spot against Orlando.

"I want to have hard decisions, and if I have hard decisions it means I've got players in form," said Robinson. "Sam was a difficult decision for me because Jordan's done very well."

Vancouver will have to make at least one change with Mauro Rosales out with an ankle injury suffered against the Fire. Mezquida subbed in for the Argentine in that one and could find his way into a starting midfield role this week in steamy Florida against his idol.

"It's not going to be an easy game," said Robinson. "We got a good result away at Chicago just now and we want to try and build on that. We'll try and be organized, disciplined and we'll try and catch them when we can. We'll go there full of confidence and it will be a good game of football."

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