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Orlando City star Nani enters preseason confident, eager to support new coach Óscar Pareja

The Lions’ captain gave his first impression of new coach Óscar Pareja and looked ahead to the 2020 season.

Orlando City winger Nani, center, is looking forward to the upcoming MLS season with more energy and confidence. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — As Nani prepares for his second season with Orlando City, the winger is focused on one goal — molding his play to the style of new coach Óscar Pareja.

Before heading to Los Angeles for the annual MLS Media Tour, the captain had a limited opportunity to interact with Pareja. The pair met together in person once or twice, Nani said, providing little time to dive into the new coach’s plans for the Lions.

During his introductory press conference, Pareja described a vision for Orlando City that will rely on an “aggressive” mentality, emphasizing the attack and scoring a high volume of goals. But Nani said it will be hard to fully conceptualize the application of this style until the full team begins preseason training together.

“My first impression is that he’s a good person,” Nani said. “[His] style is something no one knows yet. I don’t know, it will be my first time playing with him and working with him. We need to wait until we start the preseason to understand the style of this game and the way he works. Obviously as a professional, we players must adapt to the way he works.”

Despite leading the Lions on the stat sheet — netting a team-high 12 goals and adding a team-high 10 assists — Nani said he didn’t feel satisfied with his performance in 2019.

Part of the dissatisfaction came from the fact he was new to the league. Everything about MLS — from traveling to style of play — was foreign to the winger. He said his first season helped him adjust, which was reflected in his play during the final stretch of the season, when he scored three goals and added two assists during the Lions’ last five games.  

“It was a little bit difficult at the beginning to adapt to the conditions,” Nani said. “Everything was new to me and traveling especially, it’s the hardest part. The players and the club and the manager, we must adapt and try to get the best way to take the best from me in each game. This season we have the opportunity to do much better because I know already how it works and how to prepare myself for each game.”

Despite the challenges, he said he appreciated the stadiums and playing environments that his first season in the league offered.

In particular, Nani said he is pleased with his family’s new lifestyle in America.

“The quality of life I’ve been having in this country is fantastic,” Nani said. “I’m very happy.”

Nani added he expects an increased sense of comfort as he enters his first full preseason with Orlando City. Last year, Nani’s signing wasn’t announced until mid-February. The winger was fresh off a full season with Sporting CP in Portugal, and he launched into preseason training and play with the Lions without any time to recover.

This year, the transition into the season is slower and smoother. Nani said the extended rest will allow him to enter the 2020 campaign ready to lead a Lions team desperate for a playoff berth. 

“I feel more comfortable because I have more time to prepare myself, get together with players, prepare the beginning of the season with the whole time,” Nani said. “Last season I arrived at a difficult moment because the team was already starting playing and I had to be in the middle of everything. … That is complicated. Now it is different, I can start from the beginning and that can give me more confidence.”

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