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2019 Orlando City Season in Review: Nani

Orlando’s big-money signing had a record-setting first year with the Lions.

MLS: New England Revolution at Orlando City SC Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City made some waves in the transfer pool with the signing of former Manchester United and Portugal star Nani from Sporting Lisbon back on Feb. 18. The veteran winger was exactly the kind of player the Lions needed entering the season after the loss of the team’s previous best attacking midfielder, Yoshimar Yotún — who actually isn’t an attacking midfielder but was asked to fill that role in 2018.

Nani was expected to bring more attacking flair to Orlando and he did that, although sometimes it was difficult to tell due to an uncharacteristically long scoring slump from striker Dom Dwyer.

Let’s take a look at the Portuguese Designated Player’s first year with Orlando.

Statistical Breakdown

Nani appeared in 30 of Orlando City’s 34 regular-season games, starting 26 of them for a total of 2,277 minutes. Despite having played in a European season, he led Orlando City in appearances and was second in starts and minutes played to Robin Jansson (28 and 2,421).

He scored 12 goals and added 10 assists, becoming the first player in the team’s history to reach double digits in both categories and establishing a new club mark for goals + assists in one season, eclipsing the previous mark of 19 set by Kaká and Kevin Molino. He led Orlando in both goals and assists.

Nani fired 64 shots on the season — second on the team to Dwyer’s 66 — and tied Dom for the club’s top mark in shots on goal, with 26. His four game-winning goals also topped the team. He averaged 2.3 key passes per game to lead all Lions and passed at a 79.8% rate.

Defensively, he averaged 0.8 tackles, 0.8 interceptions, 0.3 clearances, and 0.1 blocks per match. He committed 26 fouls (third most on the team) while drawing 37 (tied with Ruan for first), and received four yellow cards. He was not sent off but he did get a two-game suspension to start 2020 for bumping an official in the season finale.

In the U.S. Open Cup, Nani made three appearances (two starts), playing 226 minutes. He didn’t score a goal but did have an assist, setting up Chris Mueller on July 10 against New York City FC.

He attempted six total shots in the competition, getting one on target. He also committed two fouls while drawing three.

Best Game

For my money, the captain’s best match came back on April 6 when the Lions came from behind twice to beat the Colorado Rapids, 4-3. Nani had mustered three assists in his first five games with Orlando but this was his sixth and he showed his quality with his first two goals as a Lion along with another assist.

After Kei Kamara had opened the scoring early for the visiting Rapids, Nani equalized in the 31st minute with a powerful header from point-blank range off a cross from Joao Moutinho.

Tesho Akindele put the Lions ahead but Colorado came back with a pair of goals to take a 3-2 lead in the 71st minute. But 10 minutes later, Nani helped his team pull level at 3-3 off a throw-in. Nani headed Moutinho’s throw into the box to Akindele, who flicked the ball on for Mueller and the second-year player beat Tim Howard.

Nani then won the game for his team in the 89th minute. After Axel Sjoberg was whistled for a handball in the box on a Ruan cross, Nani calmly stepped up to the spot, sent Howard the wrong way, and won the game for Orlando, giving the Lions their first home victory of 2019.

The captain fired three shots, getting two on target, passed at an 87.5% rate, and drew a free kick in a complete performance. He later had another two-goal, one-assist performance in a 3-3 draw vs. New England on Sept. 14, but the Colorado game was the moment Nani truly arrived in MLS and, since it was a win, I gave it the edge in a difficult decision. I gave him an 8.5 rating for the game.

2019 Final Grade

Nani finished with a composite rating of 7.5 from The Mane Land staff. While he did go through a bit of a mid-season slump, which is understandable considering how much soccer he had played consecutively, he had a great first season in MLS. He represented Orlando City in the MLS All-Star Game, set a few new offensive team records, and elevated the play of those around him. He brought quality to set pieces and was always a threat to either score or thread the perfect pass through the defense to set up a scoring chance.

2020 Outlook

Nani will be back in 2020 and I expect the front office to surround him with more quality. That actually already started with the addition of Mauricio Pereyra but I would expect an upgrade at striker and perhaps another attack-minded midfielder to be added this off-season.

Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)

We hope you’ve enjoyed our 2019 Orlando City Season in Review ratings. If someone seems to be missing, please note that only the players who finished the season on the roster (i.e. not on loan) were eligible.