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Former teammates Nani, Wayne Rooney set to meet during D.C. United at Orlando City match

Orlando City SC forward Nani (17) warms up before a game against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

SANFORD, Fla. — To say Orlando City winger Nani and D.C. United forward Wayne Rooney have history would be a massive understatement.

The two won four Premier League titles while with Manchester United. They won a UEFA Champions League title together.

Sunday, their history as teammates will be put aside when they face each other. Orlando City (1-1-2, 5 points) hosts D.C. United (2-0-1, 7 points) at 6:30 p.m. The game will air on nationally on FS1.

“We [were] very good friends when we [were] at Man United,” Nani said. “Had great moments together. I think it’s beautiful for the people who support that big club.”

He added people enjoyed watching them play on the same side.

“I think most of the fans here in the USA are expecting to see us play and so [it’s an] opportunity to give them motivation for the weekend,” Nani said.

Nani said he and Rooney haven’t spoken in the lead-up to the match, though Nani released a short video featuring photos of the duo together while at Manchester United. Rooney responded with “See you Sunday mate.”

“We will have the opportunity to speak in the game,” Nani said.

Orlando City coach James O’Connor isn’t too interested in the “Nani versus Rooney” narrative. O’Connor is trying to string together back-to-back wins for the first time during his tenure as the Lions’ coach. Sunday’s match will be about the Lions versus D.C. United, he said.

“I’m sure for Nani it’ll be nice to see someone he’s played with and they’ve got a good relationship,” O’Connor said. “So, yeah, I’m sure the media are going to look at it and think it’s ‘Nani versus Rooney.’ For us, they’ve got Rooney, they’ve got [Luciano] Acosta, they’ve got [Paul] Arriola – they’ve got players that can cause problems.

“Equally, we’ve got players that can cause them problems. It should be a good game. They play good football. It’s a game we’re all looking forward to.”

Rooney and Nani have had solids starts to their 2019 seasons. Nani has two assists in four appearances (three starts) for the Lions and has provided leadership, while Rooney has three goals and two assists in three starts for D.C. United. All three of his goals were scored during United’s 5-0 win over Real Salt Lake. He also had an assist during that match.

During D.C. United’s preseason training, Rooney said he and Nani didn’t keep in contact much after the two were no longer teammates at Manchester United. Nani’s time at United ended in 2014 when the club loaned him to Sporting CP, while Rooney joined Everton in 2017.

“I respect him,” Rooney said. “I think he’s a fantastic player and he was a great teammate, but I think sometimes you lose contact with some players when you finish playing with [them]. Nani was one of them players who I didn’t keep in touch with.”

Rooney added his wife keeps in touch with Nani’s wife and said his wife texted him to let him know Nani had signed with Orlando City.

“I’m sure it’ll be nice for the girls to meet up, maybe, before the game,” he said.

Switching back to Nani, Rooney said, “I think he’ll be a good addition to the league. Fantastic player, great qualities. I’m sure he’s a player who will bring interest from other places, maybe, who are not as interested in the league.”

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