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Nani Announces He Won’t Return to Orlando City in 2022

Lions declined the captain’s contract option.

MLS: Nashville SC at Orlando City SC Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the club’s official release, which states that Orlando City declined Nani’s contract option.

Orlando City will have a new captain in 2022. Captain and club talisman Nani announced today via social media that he will not be returning to the club for the 2022 season. His official statement, embedded below, states that it was a club decision not to extend his contract. The club released a public statement about an hour and 45 minutes after Nani’s post, stating that Orlando City declined the captain’s contract option.

Here is Nani’s statement in its entirety:

All good things come to an end.

After 3 amazing seasons, full of great moments, new friendships and sporting success, I will be leaving Orlando City.

Orlando is a city I can call home, with great people and fantastic supporters, but my contract has ended and there was a decision by the club not to extend it. It was an honour captaining the club for its first ever play-off appearances and reaching the final of the MLS is Back tournament.

I shall never forget how the fans and community supported me and my family ever since the moment we arrived in Florida. You will have in me a friend and a fan for the future.

I wish you all the best.

“We want to thank Nani for the professionalism that he’s shown in his time in Orlando,” said Orlando City SC Chairman Mark Wilf in a club press release. “Even in the short time since we’ve taken over as stewards of this great club, we have had great respect for Nani’s passion and abilities, while he led us as captain. We wish him the best moving forward.”

“I want to personally thank Nani for believing in this project we’ve started and built together here, and I think it’s been the best decision of my three years here so far,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi said in the club’s release. “He brought everything that we needed from him, and he is a huge part of where we are today.”

Nani spent three seasons with the Lions since being signed from Sporting Lisbon on Feb. 18, 2019. The deal heralded a new era of ambition by Orlando City, bringing in the club’s most decorated player since original captain Kaká. Nani had a huge impact on the Lions since joining, scoring 28 regular-season goals and adding 23 assists in 77 appearances (64 starts). He also scored one playoff goal in three appearances (two starts) and two more goals in the MLS is Back Tournament knockout stages — both of those in a 3-1 win over Minnesota United that pushed Orlando into the final against Portland.

The talented winger, who just turned 35 nine days ago, will depart in second place on Orlando City’s all-time goal-scoring list in MLS play, the co-leader in career assists (along with the also departing Chris Mueller), and the player with the third-most career shots on goal (67). Beyond his numbers, Nani’s quality on the ball and his penchant for spectacular goals will be missed.

What It Means for Orlando City

The Lions now have two open Designated Player slots and still have to announce a decision on Mauricio Pereyra. So, it’s possible that by the time the 2022 season rolls around there could be three new faces on the roster occupying the DP slots. The Lions will have to find someone who can bring the kind of quality to the pitch that Nani did, and perhaps Muzzi and Ricardo Moreira can find someone a bit younger and a little less prone to the ravages of the injuries that the Portuguese star suffered the past few seasons. Nani suffered 92 fouls in regular-season play alone over the past three seasons and those kinds of things add up over the course of a season. He was limited down the stretch in 2021 and had to come off the bench in the playoff match at Nashville.

As for the captaincy, Junior Urso is a top candidate to inherit the armband, as are Pereyra (if retained), and Robin Jansson.

The 2022 Lions will have a new identity. Nani and Mueller were two of the recognizable faces of the team and with Pereyra turning 32 in March, it’s unknown if he’ll get a new offer. This is our first opportunity to see what the ownership of the Wilf family means to Orlando City. Will the team spend money to bring in elite talent in the three DP slots?

It’s going to be an interesting off-season.