Orlando City needs Nani to stay in hot shape all season


Nani is without a doubt one of the most talented Major League Soccer players. The former Portugal international has a level of class and skill that puts him above many others in the league. At the age of 34, he was a star of the MVP caliber for Orlando City. With 21 goals and nine assists in 54 MLS regular season games, Nani is the leader of an Orlando team ready to compete for trophies. Nani is one of the best, most successful and popular players in Orlando’s MLS history, but if his time has struck here, it’s his lack of consistency.

The narrative around him has been one of inconsistency for two years. In 2019, he scored eight goals in eight games before the international break in June, but had only four goals and three assists in the team’s last 17 games. In this hot track he was able to do MLS Best XI but was only okay for the rest of the season. Granted, there was additional fatigue from a full European season, but 2020 was a similar story. He was a finalist for MVP in the MLS is Back tournament with three goals and three assists in seven games to the final. He was also great in the team’s eight games after the tournament, with three goals and two assists during that time. But even here he could not keep up with the challenge of the season and scored only three goals in the remaining 10 games of the regular season and the playoffs.

Now in 2021, Nani has made an interesting but good start. He scored three games in a row before being ruled out a questionable two-game suspension before that international break. Can Nani find his best form after this break and keep it for the rest of the year?

This extra break could be beneficial and provide some early-season recovery from burnout. With nearly a month off, an MLS back-esque run from the captain could come this month. Orlando’s improved forward depth will also help.

In 2019 and 2020, Nani was commissioned with a lot of production. Aside from Chris Mueller, Orlando had no other winger last year who was able to come close to what Nani can do on the top scorer list. We saw how Luiz Muzzi and the Front Office tried in the last two transfer windows to address this and bring in Alexander Alvarado and Silvester van der Water to create momentum.

While we have to wait and see Alvarado’s performance, van der Water was the star of the team during Nanis’ suspension. The Dutchman has made his first MLS assist and first goal in purple in the last two games and looks like a potential star. Add in a miller renaissance that is far from a guarantee given its current shape, and Orlando could have the depth to manage Nani’s minutes on the track.

If Orlando doesn’t need Nani to play every minute of every game, he’ll be sharper in the crucial moments. If he can stay sharp, Orlando needs him to be available too.

Nani was no stranger to his MLS career on the MLS Disciplinary Committee, he was suspended earlier this year and will serve another suspension in 2020. He’s fiery at times on the field and can be vocal as the team captain. While I doubt there’ll be another suspension this year, a red card could cost him key games later in the season.

This is the year for Orlando City. The front office has put together a full team this year with three cutlery opportunities while the US Open Cup is still running. There couldn’t be a better time to win something than now, and if that’s to happen, Orlando needs his captain to be at his best. The Lions have the depth to keep it fresh, now it’s up to Nani to deliver a season of quality and hopefully a trophy.


Janet Smith