Much of the discussions surrounding Orlando City these past few weeks have been around one thing. Luis Nani's suspension. I've written about it, MLS writers have written about it; It seems that everyone who talks about the team is talking about it. Why? Because it's a big deal.
The Portuguese star was responsible for 38.6% of Orlando City's league goals last year. That is just over 1 out of every 3 goals. A lot of Orlando's struggles last season came on offense and that seems to be the problem so far this season. Although the opportunities have been there, that extra bit of quality is lacking when it comes to the final act of putting the ball into the back of the net.
With Nani's suspension finally over, he will take the field for the first time this weekend under new head coach Oscar Pareja. All signs in preseason seemed to point towards Pareja utilizing Nani closer to goal in more of a second striker role. With that in mind, much more of the goalscoring burden will be placed on the 33-year-old than it was last year.
Whether he is up to the task or not is the big question. While he produced well last season, we shouldn't forget that he never scored double-digit goals in a season before last year. The hope is that he continues where he left off last season and somehow improves under Pareja. This weekend will be Nani's first chance this season to show that he is able to lead the team to success.
After a single point from the opening two fixtures, the Lions have started slower than many would have liked. For an impatient fanbase starved of success, the slow start has been cause for concern. While some fans are already preparing for another playoff-less season, some are still reserving judgment until they've seen the final product. Nani is a major piece of that final product. For those who are reserving judgment, the season starts Saturday.
As the famous Star Wars line goes (sort of), "Help me Luis Nani. You're my only hope."