Saturday’s shootout hero was defender Rodrigo Schlegel as a makeshift goalkeeper, however, in regular time it was Nani who made some of the most valiant efforts in the match. In my opinion, he should be lauded for such leadership. Throughout the suspenseful fixture that was roughly as long as an American football game, Nani once again boasted his unflinching willingness to try something different.
The captain up front admittedly had a hot and cold performance in terms of his final product but the fact that he was continually audacious is admirable in my eyes. Due to his boldness and sheer amount of attempts made, the completion numbers do not look great. But Nani, once again, was the player who took initiative on the attacking front and even if there were, and are, some bumps along the way for him in any given match in front of goal, he never shied away from having a crack at the whip. What the experienced Portuguese forward is tasked with is no easy feat and he deserves all appreciation and praise that comes his way for carrying out such a tricky assignment, arguably even more than he receives.
Nani scored the penalty in the opening five minutes of regular time, putting Orlando City in front. After that, the Lions scored no more goals in regular time, but Nani continued to keep up his daringness. He took six of the Lions’ 16 shots, which was the most out of any other player between the two sides, even though New York City FC took an impressive 26 total. Nani also had the second most take-ons completed, edged only by his teammate, Mauricio Pereyra. Finally, he had the most crosses attempted out of any Orlando player, attempting five.
As was mentioned earlier, while the stats show that a great deal of the efforts taken by Nani did not come to anything, the attempts are indicative of the fact that he is the one trying to make things happen — often facing far more attention from the opposition than any of his teammates. Two shots on target from six attempted and one cross competed from five is not great but at least he is trying to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. At times, it almost seemed as if some of the players for Orlando were scared to shoot and over-passed or just put their laces through it. With Nani, that is almost never the case. He is not scared to miss. Sometimes risks have to be taken.
Of course, a better conversion rate on the aforementioned stats would be ideal, but I believe it should be acknowledged more that Nani is putting in the hard yards and seems totally dedicated to winning with Orlando City. He played through the entire, ridiculously long playoff match-up and contributed heavily throughout. Being the main man for such a long match-up must be exhausting, but Nani seems to relish the spotlight, even if it’s for a gut-busting length of time.
During his career in Europe, the former Manchester United man was often in the shadow of players “bigger” than him in terms of notoriety. Obviously, Cristiano Ronaldo is the main person who springs to mind with his national team, but a great deal of others left Nani in their shadows too. Individuals such as Wayne Rooney took the majority of the limelight off of the 34-year-old during his time with the Red Devils.
In Orlando, however, that is not the case. Nani is the out and out main man, the talisman. The Onus is on the captain to provide and even though that may be a new pressure, he generally tends to deliver. The fact that I was genuinely surprised that he missed his “could have, should have, would have been” decisive penalty in the shootout pretty much speaks for itself. Since the top-quality forward has been a part of the fold he has almost always come through in scenarios like that. When the pressure has been on in the past, he has come up clutch. The victory over LAFC in the MLS is Back Tournament on penalties serves as a prime example of his leadership and his composure. He may have purposely volunteered for the “clean-up” spot, so if the possibility to score the shootout winning shot arose, he’d be the man labored with the high-pressure chance.
Nani is and will continue to be a cog in the side as Oscar Pareja and company continue through the playoffs. Leading with such industriousness, coupled with bravery, is no easy mission, but Nani is and has been carrying it out very well. Let’s hope that leadership continues and, more importantly, so does the trek through the postseason.