The Importance of the Captain: Nani, Lions Gear up for Postseason
When Luis Nani arrived in Orlando ahead of the 2019 Major League Soccer season, his impact was rather immediate.
With an assist in each of his first two appearances for the Lions, the Portuguese international would go on to lead the side in both goals and assists at 12 and 10, respectively, through the 2019 campaign, becoming the first player in Club history to lead in both categories. He also took on, perhaps, an even more important role as the Club's captain.
Entering into his second year in MLS, Nani was serving a two-game suspension to start the campaign before the league was forced to suspend its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, extending his time away from the field to just over nine months. His 2020 debut, however, was worth the wait.
At the Lions' return to the pitch for the MLS is Back Tournament opener against Inter Miami CF, Nani found himself involved in both goals, earning the assist on Chris Mueller's 70th-minute equalizer before netting the game-winner himself late into second half stoppage time.
Those two contributions served as the first of seven for the City captain in the Lions' run to the final of the competition, with three goals and four assists to his credit through seven matches on his way to earning a Best XI nod for the tournament and an MVP nomination.
While the numbers were impressive, the lasting image of Nani from that tournament run came following the Lions' Quarterfinal match against LAFC, where he converted the very penalty to send City through to the Semifinals in the fifth round of the shootout.
"I would like to say, pay attention to our team with good eyes and give respect to the football. We've been working hard and we're going to continue to work hard just to play our football and try to improve," Nani said following the match.
Fast forward nearly four months, the Lions are gearing up for their first postseason match in Club history, set to take on 2015 expansion rivals New York City FC. With a limited amount of postseason experience on the roster, the pedigree and experience of the Lions' captain will be paramount for this City side that is looking to go on a deep run into the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
With a decorated resume that includes a Champions League title, a UEFA European Championship and numerous league titles in both England and Portugal, the pressure of a single-elimination match is nothing new to the Lions' captain.
All in City's camp got a preview of the importance of that experience at the MLS is Back Tournament, with Nani having his hand in three of the Lions' five game-winners throughout the competition. However, he and the rest of this City side have made it clear that they are hungry for more.
"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. [Nani] has been in these scenarios before," Pareja said of his captain at the MLS is Back Tournament. "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 Luis [Nani].
"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."
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