Kevin Molino is smiling again, and that’s good news for Orlando City SC in 2016.
The Trinidadian midfielder’s debut MLS season was cruelly cut short by an ACL tear on May 2. He's still undergoing rehab on his right knee, but he now believes he is firmly on course to be ready for next term.
The two-time USL MVP was expected to be a major influence for the Lions this year and was among the league leaders in chances created when he went down in a friendly against Brazilian club Ponte Preta more than seven months ago.
His partnership with Designated Player Kaká was shaping up to be a key component of the season, and City struggled to fill Molino's right midfield spot after his injury. But the 25-year-old is delighted with the progress he's made in recent months, and is confident of a full recovery in time for the 2016 season.
“Things are all going to plan. I am still going in three times a day and am moving my leg with weights and working to get it stronger,” he explained. “I am also working on my upper body strength as it’s not just a question of getting the knee right. But I am almost back to full training, running and passing, so that is all good.
“There is no pain now, no worries. Everything has been going well. I have been making progress from day one, really, from the day after surgery. It is a massive improvement. I am just grateful for the support of the medical people and coaching staff.”
Molino admits the injury came as a real setback, the first time he had been seriously injured in a pro career dating back to 2008 in the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League. He joined Orlando in 2011 and had been an integral part of the team until the Ponte Preta friendly, notching an assist in seven appearances -- all starts -- before suffering his injury.
“I remember the game. Someone passed me the ball and I knew the fullback was coming towards me and I kind of jumped to avoid him and landed on my right leg and my knee just folded up,” he recalled. “I told myself it was serious right away because I never want to come off, but this was too painful.
“I didn’t think it would be out that long, though, but they called me the next day and told me I was out for the rest of the season. But I had to take something positive from it and I had to be mentally strong to get through. Every dream has a downside and I have to come back stronger, both physically and mentally.”
Getting through the initial rehab process was the toughest thing for the livewire Molino, who thrives on being energetic and involved, both on the training field and on game day.
“Not being able to walk and do stuff that I’m used to doing was the worst part because I am a very active person, even when I’m not playing. I don’t like to be restricted,” he admitted. “Not being able to get back in the locker room or even kick a ball for three months was really tough.
“But I knew what I had to do by then and it didn’t take me long to realize what I had to do to get fit again. I grew up learning to think positive so that is always in the back of my mind, to keep going to the end.”
Taking a seat in the stands for much of 2015 did help in one, respect, though. “Watching games definitely gave me a different perspective,” he said. “It is a totally different angle on the game and I tried to absorb as much as possible to be ready for next season, things like how to break down defenses. It was a real learning curve.
“It was also good to see the guys fighting hard and getting through the season, even when things were tough with all the injuries we had.”
Assuming he's ready to go when the season opens in March, it'll have been a full 10 months in between MLS appearances for Molino. He still has a few medical hurdles to overcome, but 2016 certainly can’t come soon enough.
“Now I am just ready and excited for next season,” he insisted. “It still depends on whether everything checks out okay when I get back to training. I am working with the trainer and he communicates with the doctor, and I will still need check-ups twice a week to see if it needs more physical therapy.
“But I just want to go out there on the training field with the guys again. I just enjoy kicking a ball – that makes me happy. It is the little things I have missed the most, having a laugh and a joke – and looking forward to games at the weekend.”