James O'Connor reveals why Nani, Dom Dwyer didn't start for Orlando City

James O'Connor head in hands - Orlando City SC

Hitting the road for a cross-country trip to Sandy, Utah, Orlando City SC head coach James O'Connor opted to leave stars Nani and Dom Dwyer on the bench to start their match against Real Salt Lake

RSL jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 55 minutes, the second goal prompting O'Connor to make a double substitution to introduce the pair in the 56th minute. Chasing the game, Orlando out possessed RSL 64% to 36% in the final 45 minutes and outshot the hosts 9-7 during that period of play. Nani scored a delightful free kick to halve the deficit in the 81st minute, but the Lions fell 2-1

The improved play from the moment Nani and Dwyer entered the field led many to believe the club could have had a different outcome if the pair had been involved in the starting lineup. After the match, O'Connor gave the reasoning behind each decision.

“I think when you look at Nani he started in July," O'Connor explained after the match. "I think the big thing that we have to have is that we can’t have an expectation for Nani to play every minute of every game because if we do he’s gonna end up with a 15, 16 month season. Physically it’s not possible so we need to make sure that in a situation like this with high altitude and with a longer flight that we’re sensible in our thoughts because the last thing we want is for him to get injured."

As for Dwyer, O'Connor expounded a similar feeling.

"We felt that the idea of (Dwyer) coming, traveling, dealing with altitude, his preseason starting a bit later we felt it was important that we manage his situation as well," O'Connor said. "We’ve got a lot of possession and the ball zipping across the goal, but I’ll say it again; if we’re gonna give away two really cheap goals like that, it becomes very difficult to get something out of the end game.”

The loss leaves Orlando with eight points after seven matches, still good enough to be above the playoff line at this early stage of the season. 

"Dom and Nani’s quality is no secret," midfielder Will Johnson said. "Those guys come on the field, good things are going to happen for us. But it's what happened before they get on the field to cost us again.”

Dwyer has appeared in all seven games this season, though has only started three, adding three goals and two assists. Nani has also appeared in each of the team's seven matches, with five starts, contributing three goals and four assists. 

“For us it’s just managing the whole situation," O'Connor said for when Nani and Dwyer are on the bench. "It’s very frustrating because we all want everyone to play every single minute but the last thing we want is out key players – especially our DP’s – to get injured.”

Dwyer, Nani and the Lions will look to rebound at home on Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps (3 pm ET | TSN in Canada, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US).