ORLANDO, Fla. – Anyone looking for the more oblique effects of marquee Designated Player Kaká on the inaugural Orlando City SC season need look no further than Rafael Ramos.
The young right back from Santa Marinha in northern Portugal has been nothing short of a revelation at MLS level, after racking up just four USL appearances following his move from Orlando’s European affiliates Benfica late last year.
Ramos – known as Rafa throughout the club – has started all but one game this season, and that omission was purely due to a call-up for the Portugal U-20 team in Week 4. He earned a place in the MLS Team of the Week after the Lions’ 1-0 win at Housto
n in Week Two – the first Orlando player to earn that distinction – and also caught the eye at home to Vancouver and last Sunday at Portland.
It is possible to argue Ramos and fellow defender Seb Hines have been the team’s most consistent performers to date. That might be surprising to some, especially since there was never any guarantee the diminutive Rafa – he stands just 5'7" and weighs barely 154lbs – was going to stand out at major league level.
“Rafa was one of the people who you wondered if he would be up to it this season,” said head coach Adrian Heath following a training session this week. “But he has been absolutely outstanding. He still has a lot to learn but he has all the tools to do it.
“He’s a confident boy with great confidence in his ability. Sometimes he probably risks too many things, but that’s part of being young and he will learn.”
That youthful confidence is complemented by an excellent first touch and an absolute fearlessness in defense, which was on display last Sunday when he made a vital clearance following a Donovan Ricketts save immediately before getting clattered by Portland’s 6-foot-4 powerhouse forward Fanendo Adi.
Ramos’ self-assurance comes through clearly in interviews – he is happy to talk in English despite Portuguese being his native language – but he is quick to point to the main reason why.
“I am big friends with Kaka and that has been so important for me,” he insisted. “He has helped me a lot, both on and off the field and, when you have a great player like that helping you, that only gives you confidence.
“It is also important that we speak the same language. That has been a big factor for me because it makes everything so much easier and, when I go out on the pitch, I feel confident and strong.”
Ramos’ rapid development bodes well for Orlando as he is under contract through 2017 and already looks to be a permanent fixture in the back four as he complements Heath’s possession-minded attacking game perfectly. But it is clear his progression is not happening in isolation.
“The way the team is playing gives everyone – not just me – plenty of confidence," said Ramos. "The coaches do a great job in setting things up for each game and, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be like this. I think we all feel the same way and we are just excited for the next game.”