Orlando City may have booked its spot in the final of the MLS is Back Tournament on Thursday, but it was the efforts from team captain, Nani that drew plenty of praise following the match.
Head coach Oscar Pareja shared some solace after the 3-1 win over Minnesota United, following the Portuguese winger’s two-goal, one assist performance against the Loons. The victory led the Lions to their first shot at silverware since entering MLS in 2015.
“[Nani] has been in these scenarios before,” said Pareja following Thursday’s win. “The thing that I want you all to know is that he’s training every single day like he is a rookie coming into the league and we all respect that from him. In the games that he needs to appear, he is doing it. It’s contagious, his energy, and we respect his leadership.”
“We’re all content with his performance of course and the sacrifice that these guys are doing, everybody just for each other, it’s remarkable indeed.”
Nani’s double on Thursday put him on three goals in six games during Orlando’s run in the competition, which also includes three assists.
The former Manchester United winger signed with Orlando shortly before the 2019 season on a free transfer from Sporting Lisbon and finished his first year with the Lions with a team-high 12 goals in 30 appearances.
For Pareja, who’s in his first year as head coach of Orlando — having Nani on the pitch this year has had some positive effect on a squad that finished second-to-last in the Eastern Conference table.
“It’s great to have players who take that responsibility and put the weight on their shoulders and appear in the games that mean the most for us,” said Pareja. “It’s remarkable, but I want to include everybody’s effort. Everybody contributed to this victory and obviously, we have some guys who had highlights and tremendous personalities in them. They’re doing a great job, we’re happy.”
Pareja will expect another standout performance from the Portuguese veteran against the Portland Timbers in next week’s Final. Should the Lions pick up the win, they will also earn roughly $1.1 million in prize money and a spot in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.