SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City designated player Nani’s match-winning goal on Saturday against Vancouver was a unique occurrence for the 2019 Lions.
It was the second goal the Lions have scored this season without both Nani and Dom Dwyer on the pitch. It was the first time the Lions have scored a goal without the designated player duo on the field since a free kick from Chris Mueller in Orlando City’s season opener found the back of the net.
Orlando City’s attack has heavily relied on Nani and Dwyer for production, but other players have stepped up. Mueller, forward Tesho Akindele and Sacha Kljestan all have scored for the Lions so far this season.
“I think there’s a lot of things that work,” Mueller said of Orlando City’s attack. “I think when you look at the amount of good players that we have, the amount of talent that we have going forward, I think that, you know, whoever’s out there can get the job done. There’s no excuse in who’s out there or if some combinations work better than others.
“I think that the team is very deep. I think that we have, like I said, a lot of good attacking players. So, wherever the pieces fall, when it comes game day, I think that it’s going to cause a lot of teams havoc, whoever it may be.”
The Lions (3-3-2, 11 points) as of Wednesday afternoon were in a four-way tie for second place in goals scored in the Eastern Conference with 12. Orlando City travels to Yankee Stadium to take on New York City FC (1-5-1, 8 points) on Saturday. NYCFC had a game against the Chicago Fire on Wednesday.
While they haven’t been goal scorers, outside backs João Moutinho and Ruan have been integral threats going forward. Moutinho is one of three Orlando City players with two assists and Ruan’s ability to blow by defenders has created chances for the Lions.
Orlando City has scored at least once in every match this season. It’s a reversal from the rough way last season ended – the Lions scored just two goals during their final eight matches of 2018.
Orlando City has scored 10 of its 12 goals in the second halves of games.
“I think we’ve been a threat in most of the games,” coach James O’Connor said. “I feel as if we’ve created quite a bit. I think we can be pleased from an attacking standpoint with the chance creation. With the conversion, I think there’s been some games where we’ve been pretty clinical. We’ve had other games where we’ve maybe had some good chances and needed to be a little bit more clinical.”
Nani leads the team in goals scored with four. He also leads the Lions with four assists. Dating to Orlando City’s 4-3 win over the Colorado Rapids, Nani has scored or assisted on five of the Lions’ last six goals. Nani’s match-winning goal against Vancouver was odd in that it was a shot from midfielder Kljestan that took a deflection off him before going in.
“What you pay the big money for for these stars is goals and assists,” Kljestan said. “So he has stepped up and helped the attack in his way, which is setting up goals and finishing them off. That part has been huge.”
During the span, star striker Dwyer has gone without a goal, though that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s been dormant. Against the Rapids, he forced a save that led to Akindele’s goal when Akindele put away the rebound. Against Real Salt Lake, Dwyer won the free kick that Nani turned into a goal.
Dwyer wasn’t a factor against Vancouver, but the Whitecaps didn’t commit numbers forward and crowded the penalty area, where typically Dwyer was the only Lion waiting for service.
Despite the three-match drought, Dwyer is still second on the team with three goals.
O’Connor said defensive midfielder/centerback Carlos Ascues (hamstring) would participate in Wednesday training session. Ascues was present for the portion of training open to the media Wednesday morning.
Centerback Alex De John (hamstring) wasn’t present while reporters were at training.
Both Nani and centerback Lamine Sané were training to the side during the open portion of training, though neither is dealing with an injury.