It was bound to happen, but Nani’s transition to Major League Soccer continues to have an impact for Orlando City.
The Portuguese winger opened his scoring account by scoring a brace, including a clutch penalty and a secondary assist to help lead the Lions to a much-needed 4-3 win over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday.
“It’s always good to score the goals for the team,” Nani said after the game. “All of it will help, but it’s obviously not the most important. We wanted to win for our fans. What they’ve been doing all the weeks was fantastic. I never saw that in my life. I’ve played for many teams, and when things are not going well, everyone knows how the fans normally react. These fans, they are special. So I wanted so badly to win, to help the team win. But, we are very happy because we did. It was a great game, a fantastic game for our team, so we must continue to work hard and believe in each other because there’s a lot of good things coming for us.”
With two goals and four assists through six games played, Nani has been involved in at least one goal in every game he has played. Compare this to former designated player Kaká, who had three goals and an assist through his first six games. Both the 2015 and 2019 Lions sat 2-2-2 through their first six matches with their DP’s playing significant parts.
head coach James O’Connor, who named Nani the captain in his first start in Chicago, praised his Designated Player after the match for his professionalism and leadership on the field.
“When you look at Nani, he’s a world-class player,” said O’Connor. “We’re blessed to have somebody like that. I think it shows you his professionalism and his mentality to have a reaction like that tonight. He’s got a phenomenal leap first half, scored a great header. And then the composure to take the penalty. He was cool as a cucumber and just slid it into the corner.”
“I think when you look at his play and his experience and the way he’s trying to help the players it’s — as we’ve always said — very, very encouraging. It’s not just the technical aspect. It’s the leadership that he shows as well,” O’Connor added.
That leadership has been very evident to the team as well. After their win over the New York Red Bulls, Sacha Kljestan mentioned that Nani had called a team meeting prior to the match and spoke to them about a winning mentality, which led them to a 1-0 win at Red Bull Arena.
While that leadership has been key for Orlando, his brace on Saturday night was a cherry on top for Nani.
“ I wanted to score,” he said. “I wanted to give something to these fans. They’ve been supporting and receiving me very well. All my teammates deserve my help, so I wanted to help, so I scored. I was feeling very emotional. I’m so happy to help my team.”
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