In the 45th minute of the Chicago Fire match on October 6th, 2019, referee Pierre-Luc Lauziere whistled for a foul against Orlando midfielder Uri Rosell on the edge of the 18-yard-box. Following the call, Luis Nani wildly sprinted over to the head referee, got in his face, and pushed him with his chest.
While he was somehow only given a yellow card for his actions, the MLS Disciplinary Committee rightfully found the conduct to be unacceptable and issued a two-game suspension along with an undisclosed fine as punishment. Since the Chicago game was the final game of the season, Luis Nani's suspension will carry over to the opening fixtures of the 2020 season.
Those opening fixtures are against some solid Western Conference opponents. The first challenger will be last season's 3rd place team Real Salt Lake before the Lions head to Colorado to face the new and improved Colorado Rapids.
With these two games expected to be tight affairs, Orlando would have most likely leaned on Nani's quality to be the difference for them. With him unavailable, who will they look to provide that extra spark?
The easy answer is Mauricio Pereyra. The 29-year-old Uruguayan joined the Lions as a free agent in late July of last year. Before becoming a free agent, Pereyra was a vital player for the Russian Premier League side FC Krasnodar. Making just over 200 appearances in a span of 9 years, the Uruguayan combined for a total of 62 goal contributions (29 g, 33 a) for the club. For his stellar play, he was recently named the best player in FC Krasnodar's history, as voted by the fans. It would not be a surprise to see him gain a much bigger role while the captain is out of the team.
My basis for this answer comes from a preseason game against San Antonio FC, a USL-C side. From face value, it looks like another preseason game, but once you realize that it was the last one before the season, you can recognize its importance. It is customary for coaches to practice the system they want to play on opening day during the final preseason game.
The game against San Antonio FC saw Oscar Pareja select his first starting lineup of the preseason without Nani, making it clear that he was preparing for Saturday's game against Real Salt Lake. Here is how the team lined up according to Austin David (@AustinDavid22 on Twitter).
When I look at this lineup, I notice two things straight away. The first is the selection of the ball-winning Mendez over the possession-based Rosell in the double pivot next to Urso. That tells me that Pareja wants a more defensive-minded pairing behind Pereyra in the number 10 role. The reason behind that move is surely down to the free attacking role that he will give to Pereyra. With a more structured double pivot behind him, Pereyra will be able to remain in an advanced position in order to replace Nani's influence in the final third.
The second thing I notice in the lineup is Kamal Miller in that left-back position. For those who don't know, Kamal Miller played as a CB throughout his time in college. The stocky 22-year-old is not someone who you would expect to see in that role, yet, there he is. The Canadian International has clearly been deployed there for a reason. What is that reason you may ask? It is to provide defensive cover behind Benji Michel. The left-winger will constantly cut inside to combine with Pereyra and make those dangerous angled runs behind the defense. These offensive movements will leave spaces that Kamal Miller will step into and cover.
The catalyst for these originally unforeseen changes to the lineup is the absence of Luis Nani. Without his quality in the final third, Orlando are a much smaller attacking threat. When a team's attacking threat is small, it gives the opposition more confidence to play on the front foot and send more bodies forward, leading to more goals. This is one reason why FC Cincinnati struggled so much last season. Teams weren't afraid of their offense and therefore felt comfortable sending more players forward than they traditionally would have. It is imperative that Orlando does not let their attacking threat dwindle without Luis Nani in the team. If they do, it could be a rough start to the season.