Nani looking to ease pressure on play-off chasing Orlando
Orlando City have never reached the MLS play-offs and talk about ending the club's post-season drought is not a conversation Nani wants to have for the good of the Lions. Orlando entered MLS as an expansion team in 2015 and they now boast one of the best supporter bases in the league. However, one thing has been missing in Florida – the play-offs.
Former AC Milan and Real Madrid star Kaka – the 2007 Ballon d'Or winner – ex-Arsenal forward Julio Baptista and former Rossoneri midfielder Antonio Nocerino all called Orlando City Stadium home but none were able to crack the post-season code. After a seventh-place finish in their inaugural campaign, eighth, 10th and 11th positions have followed in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
With former Manchester United winger Nani now leading the charge, all eyes are on James O'Connor's Orlando. But the 112-time Portugal international is looking to ease the pressure, with his team two points adrift of the play-off places after 14 games.
"I've been learning a lot since I arrived," Nani, 32, told Omnisport. "We are ambitious and we want to be more ambitious every season. We want to achieve better goals. "We want to be among the best teams in the league. But every time I've been doing interviews, everyone asked if it's possible to reach the play-offs. I don't think it's a good conversation at the moment because it hasn't helped until now.
"We must start focusing on each game, play our best because we have a good team. We showed already we can do it. I think it's better to take some pressure off our team and club and believe we can go far. Obviously, we will arrive there but if we take off this pressure, things will go much better during the season. It will be less stressful on the young players especially and this can help."
Addressing Orlando's strengths and weaknesses, Nani added: "The potential to improve every weekend on the young players on our team. The weakness, we are still very young as well. On one side it's good, on the other it isn't because when we need to show more maturity on the pitch, we don't have it. This causes us to lose some points but we have been improving.
"I'm very confident at the end, we will be very proud of this team because the potential we all have is much bigger than everything. The future is about Orlando and this beautiful club. We just need to be focused on what we have to do and every position, the good energy around us will let us go very far."
Nani swapped boyhood club and Portuguese giants Sporting CP for Orlando in 2019 and the Euro 2016 winner has made a fast start in the United States. A four-time Premier League champion and Champions League winner among other trophies during his time at United, Nani has scored seven goals and tallied four assists in 12 appearances for Orlando.
Nani finds himself in MLS at a time when former United team-mate Wayne Rooney is captaining DC United and ex-Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is leading the way for LA Galaxy.
"They are very popular and had great careers. Everyone follows them," Nani said when asked if Rooney and Ibrahimovic influenced his decision to leave Europe after playing for Sporting CP, United, Fenerbahce, Valencia and Lazio. "Obviously when I was playing at Sporting, I heard the news in MLS, they were playing good and scoring some beautiful goals.
"It creates a little bit of motivation for other players to come to this league as well. They are still great players, doing very well. It makes this league continue to be good. I had this opportunity to come to the US and it was fantastic." "I'm happy to be here. I'm enjoying playing in this league," Nani continued. It's fun and competitive with great players here. I have everything to enjoy in this beautiful city."