Kaká, Villa revel in leadership roles for MLS All-Stars against Tottenham
COMMERCE CITY, Colo.—After playing his way into MVP contention in the first half of the Major League Soccer season, Orlando City SC midfielder Kaká stood out even with a few of his competitors for the award on the same field Wednesday. His goal and assist led the MLS team to a 2–1 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the 2015 All-Star Game, earning him the match’s MVP award in the process.
"Not bad for my first All-Star, right?” he said in the post-game press conference. “I didn’t expect that for tonight. As I said yesterday, I thought we could win… but I didn’t expect to score, assist and [win] MVP.”
In the 20th minute, Tottenham midfielder Nacer Chadli was whistled for a handball in the box as his arm flailed and struck a corner-kick service from the right. Referee Ismail Elfath showed no hesitation in blowing the whistle, and the players didn’t delay in electing their penalty taker, either.
“You probably have five or six guys that take penalties for their own team that probably gave it up to Kaká,” said Dax McCarty, who played in the holding role underneath the Brazilian. “He was the captain. He obviously deserved it, and it was a great finish.”
Kaká slotted the ball into the lower left-hand corner of the goal. Spurs goalkeeper Michel Vorm dove correctly, but Kaká’s precise placement took the ball just far enough away from his outstreched arm.
Three minutes later, Clint Dempsey played a ball to Kaká on the right side of the penalty area, and the playmaker looked up to see New York City FC forward David Villa running toward goal. Villa pulled up at the last moment, giving himself enough space to glance Kaká’s slotted service along the ground into the net with his left foot.
The two expansion team captains’ contributions were enough to seal the win. They were the most globally recognizable names left after multiple big-name players from around the league withdrew from the squad due to injury in the days prior to the match, including Sebastian Giovinco, Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and U.S. national team captain Michael Bradley.
In the midst of other stars dropping out, Kaká and Villa’s roles increased, and their leadership became more vital.
“With players like Kaká, David Villa and Dempsey on the front lines, they are always playing off one another,” coach Pablo Mastroeni said. “It’s what makes them some of the best players in the world.”
Kaká became the first player from a team new to the league to win the game’s MVP award. In 45 minutes, he finished with the most touches among all MLS players, 38, and attempted the most passes with 29. Hardly an attack went by that he didn’t have a hand in.
“During very hectic moments, he was able to find the calm in the game and then take the sting out of it, move the ball around and get in dangerous positions. He’s in great form,” Mastroeni said. “He was a catalyst in a lot of things we did tonight.”
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said the match lived up to his expectations, especially considering it was his club’s first official game of preseason ahead of the Premier League kickoff on Aug. 8.
“We expected a very tough game,” Pochettino said. “I think that we have to recognize the players that created or have more skill like Kaká, Villa or Dempsey, but we played a talented MLS team.”
Others on that team, accustomed to the spotlight every week with their respective MLS franchises, sounded content to enjoy the show.
“It seemed like they were just having fun up there, playing around the Tottenham guys,” center back Omar González said. “From my position, I got to see it all and just watch, just like the fans, so that was a lot of fun.”
McCarty added: “Obviously, they’re special players… You can tell they had a connection right away. World-class players, they have that uncanny ability to just step on the field and combine.”
After his selection to the squad, Kaká said he grew up watching other American sports’ showcase games. Along with winning a World Cup with Brazil in 2002 and the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2007, it genuinely seemed like a highlight moment for him.
“I remember the NBA All-Stars because I had a lot of cards from the All-Star NBA players,” Kaká said. “So to be part of this today was an incredible experience to me.”
In the end, he also played a pivotal role in another MLS victory over a foreign team, the league’s fifth win over a Premier League club in eight tries. Not bad for his first All-Star Game.