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Warshaw: Orlando take a risk on Nani, but his upside is irresistible

I wouldn’t have done it, but I’m glad someone else did. 

It’s a line I often think about when teams sign players. I have a mental list: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Wayne Rooney, Marco Fabian, and now Orlando City’s newest attacker, Nani. If I were the general manager or head coach, I wouldn’t pay Designated Player money to an older or injury-prone player. You’re putting an oversized weight on an unpredictable variable. The payoff could be huge, but the risk can sink you. I’d rather build a team in which you have more control (coaching) over the variables. 

But I certainly won’t get upset when someone else goes for it. It’s fun. If the player lights it up, then we get to experience Rooney 2018. If the player struggles, then I’ll forget it happened. My upside, someone else’s risk.

There’s a part of me that wishes that Orlando spent the money on the Miguel Almiron Model, attempting to buy young and sell high. I’d generally prefer to watch a player moving upward in his career than someone trending back. But there’s still a category of player that supersedes that. I’m more likely to turn on the TV to watch Nani than to watch Jesus Medina. While I think players like Medina are the better way to build a roster, I’ll gladly thank the person who brings in the Nani.

It’s up to Orlando to make sure Nani performs as more than a name. On paper, the former Manchester United winger fills a huge gap for the Lions. They needed someone to force opposing defenses to back off. If you look at Orlando's roster, they have some nice pieces: Carlos Ascues, Sebastian Mendez, Cristian Higuita, Sacha Kljestan, and Uri Rosell. But they all play centrally, and none of them scare you; if you can’t scare a defense, you can’t get them to drop off from you.

Nani has lost a little bit of pace, but he still poses a constant threat. He’s contributed nine goals and seven assists in 26 appearances for a Europa League team this year. Whether he plays central in a 5-3-2 in Orlando, as James O'Connor has used in preseason, or wide in a 4-3-3, Nani’s presence, the constant threat that anything can happen, will force teams to drop their lines a few yards; Nani should bring the best out of everyone.

If he were 23 instead of 32, it’d be the perfect signing to improve Orlando’s team. His list of attributes aligns with the Lions’ list of needs.

People doubted Schweinsteiger and Rooney in part because of their ages. It’s a reasonable concern, as it is with Nani now. But if the best version of Nani shows up – like we saw with Rooney – it puts Orlando back into the playoff hunt. (And if he doesn’t, I’ll probably tune into that, too.)

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