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Old friends Fredy Montero, Nani face off Saturday in Orlando

VANCOUVER, B.C – After their first win of the season, the Vancouver Whitecaps are back in action Saturday afternoon, traveling to Florida to take on Orlando City SC. And two close friends will be on opposite sides of that pitch.

Whitecaps FC’s Fredy Montero and Orlando City’s Nani will meet for the first time in Major League Soccer. Both players have a close relationship from their two stints together in Portugal’s Liga NOS with Sporting CP. Montero played for Sporting CP from 2013-16 and 2018-19. Nani played for his hometown club from 2014-15 and 2018-19.

“My family and his family are really close,” Montero explained to Pro Soccer USA before the Whitecaps FC flew to Orlando. “I was living in his country for five years, and he is one of the big stars of the club. When you walk into the training facility, you see posters and pictures of Nani, because he’s Nani, and he’s one of the biggest players in Portugal.”

Nani is an icon in Portugal. His career has taken him all over Europe with stops at Manchester United, Fenerbahçe, Valencia and Lazio. He’s also a UEFA Euro 2016 winner.

But Nani’s first MLS season has been a new learning experience, and it’s something Montero is happy to help him with.  

“He’s definitely, 100 percent into soccer,” Montero said, describing Nani’s passion for football. “Off the field, I am the one always trying to show him that there are more ways to enjoy life, but oh my god!! He’s always thinking about going to the gym and thinking about the next game.

“He’s looking forward to the offseason, but I was saying, ‘Hey, during the season, you can enjoy your family, enjoy life.’ Sometimes I try to take him away from soccer.”

The Whitecaps (1-4-2, 5 points) are riding a wave of momentum after a surprising 1-0 win over LAFC on Wednesday night at B.C. Place. The attention now turns to an Orlando City (2-3-2, 7 points). 

In seven MLS matches, the 32-year-old Nani has scored three goals, and added four assists. The creative winger has brought a new dynamic to Orlando’s offense. In Vancouver, Montero, 31, is still looking to find the form he had with Whitecaps FC during the 2017 season. 

Montero scored his lone goal of the 2019 season from the penalty spot against Houston on March 16. He has started once in Vancouver’s last three matches. While his playing time hasn’t been consistent, Montero has maintained a positive mentality.

If Montero is feeling the heat to perform, he isn’t showing it. 

“That’s a good one,” Montero said with a smile and laugh when quizzed about his place in the lineup. “I know my value. I came to help the team. If I have to help the team with five minutes [of playing time], then I will. I’m trying to orient all these young players, because at the end of the day, it’s a two-year contract. Two years to build the team and make the team win championships — something that I have been doing my whole career.”

Does Montero want to be a Whitecap for the full two years of his contract?

“Of course. I have two years,” he said. “I signed a contract with the team, so I will stay here.”

Having Nani on the other side of the pitch could be exactly what Montero needs to bump his slump and find his scoring touch.

“I want to win against my friend, Nani,” Montero said. “Hopefully we can come back with a victory to Vancouver.”

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