Did Nani's players-only meeting provide turning point for Orlando City?

SANFORD, Fla. – Orlando City won last weekend, but it may have been Nani’s pre-game speech to the players that spurred that extra motivation to obtain those three points.

Following Saturday’s game against the New York Red Bulls, Sacha Kljestan revealed to reporters that the Portuguese winger called a players-only meeting prior to kickoff at Red Bull Arena.

The result, a 1-0 win – Orlando’s first victory of the season and perhaps a turning point after a slow start to the 2019 season.

“I feel I needed to do that to show all the players that we need to be together, we need to focus more on our objectives,” Nani told reporters prior to Wednesday’s training session, when asked why he felt he needed to call that meeting.

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“We knew that game will be hard for us because the last games we did well, but I think the concentration on the little details was the key of the results,” said Nani. “We knew we had to improve on the situation. The focus and mentality were one of the points we had to focus more. I think that meeting was good for all the players, so they can understand what we want, what our targets are and it was good.”

For Orlando City head coach James O’Connor, it’s encouraging to see Nani taking a leadership role this early on during his tenure with the Lions.

“There’s so many different forms of leadership,” said O’Connor. “There are so many different players that have leadership qualities and show it in so many different ways, but when you get an instance like that, it’s very encouraging for us that we have leaders that are trying to help and influence through the players.”

After making his debut as a substitute with Orlando during week one at home against New York City FC, Nani has led the Lions as team captain, captaining the squad for three consecutive games and more than likely a fourth when D.C. United visit Orlando City Stadium on Sunday (6:30 pm ET | FS1 — Full TV & streaming info).

As Orlando look to build off the first win of the season, this weekend will also bring the reunion of Nani and Wayne Rooney, who were once teammates at Manchester United.

This is a game, Nani said, most fans across the country are expecting to watch.

Rooney and Nani will faceoff for the first time in MLS after many years with Manchester United | Action Images

“We were very good friends when we were at Manchester United,” said Nani. “Great moments together, I think it’s beautiful for the people who support that big club and enjoyed us [when] we played in the same side.”

“Most of the fans here in [United States] are expecting to see us play, so it’s an opportunity to give them motivation for the weekend.”

Nani, who’s tallied two assists for Orlando in four games, said he hasn’t spoken to Rooney since joining the Lions back in late February, adding he’s still trying to get used to playing in Major League Soccer and focus on his teammates.

“It’s not easy to play in this league,” said Nani. “It’s a lot of energy, it’s a different style of football. I’m not used to playing this football, but it’s something I’m working on to understand as fast as possible because I want to enjoy and play good football with my teammates.”


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