Jason Kreis knew Kevin Molino was on his way out of Orlando City when he asked the talented attacker one simple question: Are you still committed to this team?
That was the moment the Lions head coach realized he would be looking for a new midfield component, and that the Trinidad & Tobago international was headed for a different course in 2017 with MLS expansion team Minnesota United.
Last week's trade of Molino came as a shock to Orlando fans, but Kreis admitted it was an irreversible process once the team had made it clear there would be no major new contract for the player who joined the Lions back in their USL days.
“At the end of last season, we didn’t know that there was much negative about Kevin’s future here,” said Kreis. “But then things went pretty sour pretty quickly. He wanted a much increased contract and we were unable and unwilling to do that. We want to be a club that expects our players to do well for more than one year.
“We tried to do what we could in offering a contract that we felt was competitive to what he was hoping for, but the player was still unhappy. For me, what’s most important is whether a player wants to be in the team, and the last question I asked him was, ‘Kevin, do you want to be here?’ And he said, ‘No I don’t, coach. I’d like a change of scenery’. At that point, that’s who we want to be going forward, a club that wants players to desperately be a part of it.”
For Kreis, it is now a two-pronged mission to re-work the existing roster without a midfielder who scored 11 goals and added eight assists in 2016 (both second-bests on the team) while at the same time scouting for a possible new player to plug in.
“We will definitely look for the players here to pick up the slack,” Kreis said. “We have quite a few young players that we believe in that have some talents, that didn’t contribute last year as much as they could have, and if you give them some minutes, maybe they could have done the things that Kevin did.
“So we look for a solution within. At the same time, we look for a solution from without, a new player to come in and fill that role. But we won’t go and sign somebody just to sign somebody. We will be looking for the exact right fit for us to come in and make a large impact. If we can’t find that player, we will stick with what we’ve got.”
The head coach was not naming any names when it comes to players who may get the chance to fill the gap, but Carlos Rivas, 2016 draft picks Hadji Barry and Richie Laryea, midseason signing Tony Rocha, and possibly even this year’s draft choice, Danny Deakin, could be in line to make a case for the spot.
However, the departure of Molino will not – as some have suggested – move the team closer to the 4-4-2 diamond midfield formation that Kreis employed so successfully at Real Salt Lake.
“I think that would be taking a step too far,” he insisted. “Being without Kevin doesn’t really have a tactical application for us.”