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Orlando City winger Nani provides leadership while adjusting to MLS

Orlando City SC forward Nani (17) plays the ball against the New York Red Bulls during the second half at Red Bull Arena. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City’s front office expected Nani to be a leader for the Lions this season.

It’s early, but the veteran winger is rewarding that faith.

Nani called a players-only meeting before the team’s 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday in Harrison, N.J. He said the meeting was something that was needed after the Lions’ first three matches of the season, where the Lions took just two of the nine points on offer.

“We need to show all the players we need to be together,” Nani said Wednesday before training. “We need to focus more on our objectives. We knew that game would be very hard for us because the last games, we did well, but I think the concentration on the little details was the key of the result.”

The 32-year-old former Manchester United winger has played in all four of Orlando City’s matches so far this season and has started in three. He has two assists.

The Lions were coming off a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Impact heading into Saturday’s match.

“We knew we had to improve on that situation,” he said. “The focus and the mentality was one of the points we had to focus more [on]. I think that meeting was good for all the players to understand what we want. What [are] our targets? It was good.

“At the end, we won the game. I think we have a lot of quality on our team. It’s just to continue to believe in us. We can improve every day, every weekend. I know at the end, we will play much better, we will score more goals, we will be a strong team.”

Goalkeeper Brian Rowe, Orlando City’s starter through the first four matches of the season, said the meeting was about making sure all of the players were on the same page.

“Coming from a player like him, who has won and competed on the biggest stage in the world, I mean, it’s something that we all took to heart,” Rowe said. “Just, at the end of the day, just working for each other and competing, leaving everything on the field. Yeah, it was nice that he wanted to speak up and had some words for us.”

Orlando City (1-1-2, 5 points) hosts D.C. United (2-0-1, 7 points) at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. Coach James O’Connor said Nani has added value to the team through his experience.

“I think he’s been someone we’ve been really pleased with,” O’Connor said.

On the meeting Nani called, O’Connor added, “Again, there’s so many different forms of leadership. There’s so many different players that have leadership qualities and show it in so many different ways. But when you get an instance like that, I think, it’s obviously very encouraging for us that we have leaders that are trying to help and influence the players.”

Nani said he’s still getting used to the style of play in MLS.

“It’s not easy to play in this league,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy. There’s a different style of football. I’m not used to [playing] this football, but it’s something I’m working on, to understand as fast as possible. I want to enjoy. I want to play good football with my teammates and, like I said, try to help the team to reach our targets.

He also mentioned the speed of play in MLS.

“They don’t stop the ball,” he said. “It’s just playing forward, playing back, go forward and you must have good fitness and understand where [are] the right moments to run. This is where I’m training, I’m trying to understand better. For sure, I will be able to play [in] this league [at] my best, but it takes time.”

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