Kaka: Brazil's MLS star with his eye on World Cup 2018

    Story highlights

    • Kaka gearing up to appear in the MLS for Orlando City
    • Former AC Milan and Real Madrid star keen to resurrect international career
    • 89-times capped star says he wants to play in 2018 World Cup in Russia

    Orlando, Florida (CNN)Kaka grins as he recalls being mobbed by a boisterous crowd chanting his name at a Florida airport arrivals hall in the early summer of 2014.

    "It was very nice ... a good surprise for me," he said, wistfully casting his mind back to images of football fans waving flags and hollering his name.
      The graceful Brazilian midfielder once of Sao Paulo, AC Milan and Real Madrid has become used to such fevered adulation over the years.
      A glittering decade playing in Europe brought Champions Leagues, Scudettos,La Liga titles and, of course, a devoted following.
      But it wasn't the loyal apostles of Madrid's Ultras Sur, the Curva Sud Milano or even his compatriots in the unmistakeable yellow of A Selecao with whom he won a World Cup in 2002 that provided the heroes welcome in question.
      Instead it was a passionate crowd festooned in the less heralded purple and white of Orlando City, one of the newest franchises in Major League Soccer.
      Only founded in 2010, the team will make its MLS bow this week.
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      But interest was high that a former Ballon d'Or winner would be coming to play his football in a place more commonly associated with Disney World and Universal Studios.
      Local news stations carried live pictures of Kaka's plane touching down. Leaving the airport to officially sign his contract even became a mission in itself, so keen were the Orlando natives to get a glimpse of their first designated signing.
      "When I arrived in the airport, this crowd (was) singing the team songs, singing my name. Also (at) my presentation downtown, I was very, very happy," Kaka said. "Now, the city is start(ing) to enjoy this moment and everybody's looking forward to our, first game on March 8."

      Matters of faith

      Such frenzied devotion in the U.S., so long resistant to the charms of the world's most popular sport, may seem strange to fans in Europe and South America, football's historical and cultural heartlands.
      The MLS is now approaching its 20th season but has long been pejoratively regarded outside North America as a retirement home for once top-level players -- a plastic, commercially driven product devoid of any real identity offering one last payday before the limbs give out.
      Aged 32 and no doubt the recipient of a handsome remuneration package, there will be many who question whether Kaka is merely jetting in to boost his bank balance before calling it a day.
      Relaxed and polite as ever, Kaka himself is having none of this. In all honesty, it's hard to imagine a man as conscientious and clearly committed to his faith moving anywhere solely for the money.
      There was once a time when every Kaka goal resulted in a lifting of his jersey to reveal a T-shirt which stated "Jesus loves you" or "I belong to Jesus."
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      These days, the celebration of choice is usually the upward point and grateful look to the heavens.
      "In every moment of my life, not just on the field, but also off the field, my faith, Jesus Christ and the bible helped me a lot.
      "So every time that I can I do my prayer, I read the bible, go to the church. These things help me a lot to stay in good peace on my mind."
      His faith was never more important than as an 18-year-old in Sao Paulo when he suffered a serious neck injury.
      "All the doctors said look you are lucky to walk in this moment, so you need to be happy you can walk," he said.
      "And my question was 'but I can play?' Everybody said 'we don't know, we have to wait.' So, in that moment, the faith helped me a lot.
      "God always supported me at every moment and after two months I start to play as a professional player. It was a very important moment of my life."

      Orlando blooming

      Talking of moments, Kaka describes how moving to the U.S. was always a long-term ambition.
      Upon meeting Orlando City majority owner Flavio Augusto da Silva in Brazil a number of years ago, the pair discussed the potential of working together.
      Moves to LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls were mooted in the interim but never materialized for various reasons. It was then the Orlando opportunity arose which he was only too happy to take.
      Kaka points to other high-profile players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Villa and Sebastian Giovinco being attracted to the league as proof of its appeal and progress.
      "There's a lot of good players that could have another team in Europe but they chose to come here. I think it's a good moment to be in this league. In a few years, we will listen a lot about the MLS," he said.
      He might just have a point. The forthcoming MLS season marks the first of a new eight-year TV deal and media rights partnership with ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision.
      Landon Donovan raises the MLS Cup for the sixth -- and last -- time following LA Galaxy's victory over New England Revolution.
      On top of this, average attendance across the league for the 2014 season was the highest in recent MLS history, according to data on the MLS Attendance blog.
      Yet questions remain over the long-term profitability of some teams. A report from Forbes magazine in late 2013 found only 10 out of 19 MLS franchises were making any money.
      Critics might also argue that the players mentioned by Kaka are past their very best with the possible exception of the 28-year-old Giovinco.
      Unsurprisingly, the former FIFA World Player of the Year doesn't see it that we way.
      He reveals he still harbors ambitions of continuing his international career and even making the World Cup in Russia 2018. Last October saw a surprise recall under returning Brazil manager, Dunga.
      "I have a three-year contract with Orlando, and at least these three. In four years, we have another World Cup," said Kaka, who will be 36 in 2018.
      " If I feel good and Brazil needs me (it) will be a good way to stop playing. So I hope I can play another World Cup."

      World Cup ghosts

      Just mentioning the World Cup in the presence of a Brazilian can be tense after the trauma of last year's incredible semifinal in Belo Horizonte.
      The 7-1 home-turf mauling at the hands of eventual winners Germany was variously described in the unforgiving Brazilian press at the time as "an historic humiliation" and the "humiliation of all humiliations."
      Never before has a Brazilian side looked so inept, so fragile, so lacking in class, flair or bereft of that ephemeral quality known locally as "joga bonito."
      "That was very hard for us," said Kaka even though he wasn't selected for the tournament. "That defeat in our country, in the semifinal World Cup it's very, very difficult. But I think we can use this to change some in the Brazilian football.
      "A lot of players play outside (of Brazil). Most of them play in Europe, but we have to change something organization in the soccer in Brazil.
      "For me, the most important thing is the organization and the calendar. It's a lot of games, so the players can't play every game in a good shape.
      "The level is a little bit down in this moment. Also, the youth team is not what (we're) used to being in Brazil, so we need to wake up."
      Kaka hopes that many of his compatriots will keep up with the MLS and his career in Orlando now that he's exhibiting his much admired talents there.
      "We have a Facebook page in Brazil, Orlando City Brazil, and a lot of fans (are) enjoying the page. A lot of Brazilians are looking here now," he said. "I think this season will be great for us in Brazil. A lot of people will see the Orlando City playing in MLS."
      And despite earlier talk of an extended international career and making World Cup 2018, there really is only one goal at the forefront of his mind.
      "My goal is always to win. I hope one day I can win the league with Orlando City," he said.
      "For this year, probably we want to arrive in the playoffs. Let's put the target a little bit down, but I still have ... this goal that we can win the league one day."