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Orlando City signs Portuguese winger Nani to designated player deal

Nani has signed a three-year deal with Orlando City. (Photo courtesy Mark Thor-Orlando City SC)

Orlando City’s roster overhaul now includes a star that could be the answer the team has been looking for since before the start of last season.

The Lions have signed former Manchester United star Nani to a designated player deal, the club announced Monday.

The deal is for three years. He was signed on a free transfer from his former club, Sporting CP. Orlando City SC will hold a press conference at 3 p.m. Tuesday introducing Nani. 

Pro Soccer USA reported on Friday the club was in the final stages of negotiations for Nani.

The signing fulfills executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi’s goal of bringing on a “veteran, good, recognizable name.”

“This is an exciting day for our organization,” Muzzi said in a statement Monday. “Nani brings tremendous experience to our roster. He’s a dynamic winger with quality abilities to move and cross the ball, impact games and lead the offensive play.”

Orlando City’s been in dire need of a talented left winger for some time.

Last season, the Lions thought it had an answer in the form of the Columbus Crew’s Justin Meram, who the club traded for in exchange for $1.05 million in allocation money.

Meram struggled with the team and was traded back to the Crew midseason, leaving Orlando City constantly searching for a goal-scoring threat on the left side of the pitch.

An in-form Nani adds a new dynamic to Orlando City’s attack and raises questions about which players will fit where. Through four preseason scrimmages this season, coach James O’Connor has utilized three-centerback formations. Second-year player Chris Mueller has played well on the left side as a forward, but he has shown the versatility to play on either side of the pitch.

Left back Danilo Acosta was heavily involved with Orlando City’s attack during the team’s scrimmage against NYCFC and Sacha Kljestan played well as a connector in the middle of the pitch.

Despite being 32 years old, Nani is a goal-scoring threat who, much like star striker Dom Dwyer, must be accounted for at all times.

Nani scored seven goals to go with four assists for Sporting this season in league play before being signed by Orlando City. He had nine goals and seven assists across all competitions (28 appearances) for Sporting. 

In 230 appearances for Manchester United from 2007 until 2014, Nani scored 40 goals to go with 73 assists.

The Cape Verde-born winger scored 25 goals to go with 56 assists in 147 Premier League matches in his time with Manchester United and has been capped 112 times for the Portuguese national team.

Manchester United sent Nani to Sporting CP on loan in 2014. Nani began his professional career with Sporting. After that loan, he played for Turkish side Fenerbahçe, Valencia in La Liga and Italian Serie A side SS Lazio before returning to Sporting in July 2018.  

Nani has won a long list of championships during his career. While with Manchester United, he won four Premier League titles, the 2008 Champions League title and a FIFA Club World Cup — just to name a few high-profile championships.

He also won the 2016 UEFA European Championship with Portugal. 

Orlando City already has three designated players in Dwyer and midfielders Josué Colmán and Sacha Kljestan, hte maximum allowed by MLS. According to the MLS Players’ Association, all three players earn less than the compensation ceiling for Targeted Allocation Money players, which is $1,504,375, so any of  them could be converted into TAM players to free up the a designated player spot for Nani.

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