After a week or so of heavy rumors and speculation, Orlando City officially announced on Monday that it has signed former Manchester United winger Nani to a three-year Designated Player contract on a free transfer.
This is a big move for the Lions, which are still searching for their first playoff appearance in MLS, and there’s plenty to be said about the signing.
So, here’s what I have to say about it.
1.) Orlando’s announcement on Nani was met with heavy skepticism by the national media, hitting on the fact that the Lions are getting a 32-year-old winger who’s best days are long behind him. And in a time in MLS when star DP’s are getting younger, why would Orlando go the “MLS 2.0” mold with a DP on the wrong side of 30? Well, here’s the thing: Orlando is, whether you want to believe it or not, not able to compete financially with the likes of Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle, etc.
So, for them to be able to get a player as accomplished as Nani on a free is, actually, a big deal for them. And given the club’s track record of missing on said young “in-their-prime” or about to hit-it Designated Players, why not grab a player this time that has been there, done that, and can, at least on paper, be someone that you can count on to deliver on the field right away? Might as well get someone with the wealth of experience and skill he brings.
2.) The Lions signed Nani to a three-year contract, which is… complicated. A two-year deal? That would have been far more ideal, given what the Lions went through near the end of Kaka‘s deal with the club, which took a lot more out of the club and the team than anyone would have been hoping for them they signed him on in 2014. My point being: three years is a long time, and we’ll have to get through year one before we start making any judgments on what Nani has left in the tank and how well he will be able to hold up through the length of his contract.
3.) I won’t admit to know much about Nani’s character as he comes to Orlando, but this is an opportunity for him to greatly mentor and teach the young players on the squad — and those who come in along the way — in the same ways that Kaka and Antonio Nocerino did so while they were here. That alone is worth the millions the club is probably paying Nani, but it’s a big plus.
4.) On the field, how can you not be excited by the potential that Nani brings to the lineup? Again, his best days are behind him so it’s worth not getting too excited, but it’s worth thinking he makes this team better the moment he steps on the field.
Assuming the Lions continue to stick with the 5-3-2 that James O’Connor has been deploying during preseason, Nani’s best spot on the field is right up top as the second striker alongside Dom Dwyer, when he eventually gets healthy. Orlando’s biggest problem offensively last season, aside from not being able to get Dwyer any service, was that opponents neutralized Dwyer effectively by sticking two defenders on him, making it difficult for him to get the ball even when it was actually played well to him. Because of that, Orlando didn’t have the forward depth to overcome it and play off to equally as good, or close to, options to inside the penalty area.
With Nani, now defenses have two big threats to deal with, which will open up more space for better service, both in the middle of the field and down the wings for those wing-backs to play forward.
5.) So what constitutes a good season for him and the Lions? Well, across all competitions this season in Portugal he’s scored nine goals with seven assists so far, which is actually some of his best numbers in years. So that brings me to say anything in the 20 combined goals and assists range would be a big upgrade for an offensively-challenged side like Orlando. That, coupled with other strong campaigns from guys like Dwyer and Sacha Kljestan, could mean big things for the Lions this season.
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