After three years at the club, Nani’s time with Orlando City has come to an end.
The Portuguese winger has scored 31 goals and set up another 18 in 88 appearances for the Lions across all competitions since joining in February 2019.
Nani also helped Orlando to two consecutive MLS Cup Playoff berths having previously failed to qualify at all, and the final of the MLS is Back tournament in 2020. He was named in the MLS All-Star team on two separate occasions.
But with his contract up at the end of this year, the former Manchester United and Sporting CP forward has not been offered a new deal and will bring his spell in Florida to an end. Orlando City did hold an option to extend Nani’s contract by another year, but declined to do so.
“All good things come to an end,” he wrote on social media.
“After three amazing seasons, full of great moments, new friendships and sporting success, I will be leaving Orlando City.
“Orlando is a city I can call home, with great people and fantastic supporters, but my contract has ended and there was a decision by the club not to extend it. It was an honour captaining the club for its first ever play-off appearances and reaching the final of the MLS is Back tournament.
“I shall never forget how the fans and community supported me and my family ever since the moment we arrived in Florida. You will have in me a friend and a fan for the future.”
In a press release, Orlando chairman Mark Wilf said: “We want to thank Nani for the professionalism that he’s shown in his time in Orlando. Even in the short time since we’ve taken over as stewards of this great club, we have had great respect for Nani’s passion and abilities, while he led us as captain. We wish him the best moving forward.”
With Nani now 35 years old, it feels like a good time for Orlando to go in a different direction, freeing up a valuable Designated Player spot in the process.
Nani is undoubtedly an Orlando City legend. After such a long and fruitful spell in Europe, it could have been easy for him to see his time in Florida as a holiday, or a pre-retirement party.
Instead, he’s given everything to the cause, often the first to confront a referee about a decision on the pitch, or close down the opposition when Orlando lost the ball. What’s more, he’s second only to Cyle Larin (44) in the club’s all-time goalscoring charts with 31 and has made the sixth-most appearances (88).
Their two recent Playoff qualifications simply wouldn’t have been possible without the Portuguese veteran.
If there’s one criticism, it’s that Nani peaked too early year on year, leaving Orlando desperately short at the business end of the season.
In 2021, for example, the 35-year-old was performing at an MVP level early on with nine goals and six assists across his opening 15 appearances. But since then, he’s fallen off a cliff, with just one goal and one assist in 14 outings (including Playoffs). He’s been shown as many cards (one yellow, one red) as he’s managed direct goal contributions.
Perhaps down to his age, Nani just wasn’t able to sustain his elite form across an entire season, or save it for when it really mattered. He wasn’t even named in the starting lineup for Orlando’s recent 3-1 defeat to Nashville in Round One of the Playoffs.
But considering his overall contribution and commitment to Orlando City, that shouldn’t (and is unlikely to) tarnish his legacy.