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2021 Orlando City Season in Review: Nani

The captain’s third season in Orlando saw him return to form until sustaining some knocks late in the year.

Leagues Cup 2021: Quarterfinals - Santos Laguna v Orlando City SC Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Nani spent his third season as a Lion since Orlando City signed him on a free transfer from Sporting Lisbon on Feb. 18, 2019. After seeing his numbers dip during the 2020 season, Nani picked his scoring back up and played well throughout the 2021 MLS season until some mounting injuries took their toll down the season’s final stretch.

Per Head Coach Oscar Pareja, the captain fought through injuries to be able to even make the team sheet in the season’s final weeks and provided whatever he could despite not being 100%. He also represented Orlando City in the MLS All-Star Game and All-Star Skills Competition.

Let’s take a look at Nani’s third (and what turned out to be his final) season in purple.

Statistical Breakdown

Nani again played primarily as a winger on the left in Pareja’s system, although he also played beneath the striker at times and generally either freelanced or swapped sides periodically to give the opposition a different look and take on different defenders.

The Portuguese talisman appeared in 28 of the team’s 34 games, starting 22 and playing 1,838 minutes in total during the regular season. He scored 10 goals and added eight assists, tying Daryl Dike for the team lead in goals and finishing second among all Lions in assists to Mauricio Pereyra, who had 10. Despite fan perception of his penalty taking, Nani converted two of three penalty attempts for Orlando City in 2021, although he did miss badly in the All-Star Game.

He led all Orlando players in shot attempts (65) and shots on target (25). The 35-year-old winger completed 79.6% of his passes on the season, with 42 successful dribbles, 44 key passes and 27 successful crosses.

Defensively, Nani contributed 22 tackles, six interceptions, 17 clearances, and one blocked shot. Nani committed 14 fouls but sustained 28, and picked up three yellow cards and was sent off once for earning two bookings against Montreal on Sept. 15.

He played 15 minutes off the bench in Orlando City’s playoff match at Nashville but did not score or assist on a goal, registering one shot attempt. He passed eight times at a 50% rate and drew a foul in that game.

In the Leagues Cup match-up against Santos Laguna, Nani started and played all 90 minutes without scoring but did attempt three shots (one on target). He committed two fouls and suffered three, picking up a yellow card.

Best Game

Nani shined brightest this past season in Orlando City’s 5-0 drubbing of the San Jose Earthquakes at Exploria Stadium on June 22. He factored in three of the Lions’ five goals on the evening, putting Orlando ahead 1-0 from the penalty spot in the seventh minute, beating JT Marcinkowski with perfect placement.

With the Lions leading 2-0, Nani sent a gorgeous ball between two Earthquakes defenders to Daryl Dike, who rounded Marcinkowski and scored left-footed to make it 3-0 in the 31st minute.

Nani then provided another assist to Dike to make it 4-0 in the 49th minute with a scrumptious cross on a free kick.

Nani played 71 minutes in the match, scored on his only shot attempt, passed at a rate of 78%, and did not commit a foul but drew one free kick from the opposition. He recorded three key passes and three dribbles, but didn’t register any defensive statistics. He didn’t have to. Orlando City sat back and used the counter attack to rip San Jose apart that night and Nani’s skills were on full display.

2021 Final Grade

The Mane Land staff gave Nani a composite rating of 7.5 out of 10 for the 2021 MLS season. This is half a point higher than his rating of 7 in 2020 and on par with the 7.5 that we gave him in 2019. When on his game, Nani was spectacular. While it perhaps isn’t the fault of a player in his mid-30s who is fouled a lot to suffer health-wise late in the season, it’s true that his numbers took a tumble again in the season’s second half. As fixture congestion became more of an issue, Nani scored only one goal in his final 13 regular-season games and added only one assist during that span as well. Had he been able to maintain a second half performance on par with his first half, he could have finished with a 9 on the season and stayed in the MVP race.

2022 Outlook

Orlando City opted not to pick up Nani’s contract option for 2022, so he’s played his final game for the Lions unless something unexpected happens. Nani’s time in Orlando was productive, as he ranks at or near the top of most of the club’s career offensive categories. He was well worth his Designated Player slot in his time in Orlando, but as he approaches age 36, the fatigue and mounting knocks late in the grueling MLS season weren’t going to get any easier for him. The club’s decision not to pick up his option was a sound one from a business standpoint, depending on how that DP slot gets used. It will be difficult to replicate Nani’s numbers, but it will be interesting to see how Orlando City tries to fill the void he leaves behind after three seasons as a Lion.


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