Nani Scores Twice, Leads Orlando City SC to MLS Is Back Tournament Final

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2020

Orlando City forward Nani celebrates after scoring against the Minnesota United during the first half of an MLS soccer match, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux/Associated Press

Orlando City is heading to the MLS is Back Tournament Final, and it has Nani to thank. 

The veteran winger was brilliant Thursday night, notching a first-half brace in the club's 3-1 victory over Minnesota United. Mason Toye pulled one back for Minnesota United in the 83rd minute, but Benji Michel's breakaway goal in second-half stoppage time sealed Orlando City's place in the final.

Awaiting Orlando City are the Portland Timbers, who beat the Philadelphia Union 2-1 in the other semifinal Wednesday night. The two teams will fight for top billing Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. 

Both of Nani's goals were stunners. 

The first was set up by Robin Jansson's lofting ball over the top of the Minnesota United defense in the 36th minute. Nani took a brilliant first touch to corral the pass, shielded his defender and managed to poke his shot past goalkeeper Tyler Miller to open the scoring. 

Major League Soccer @MLS

WHAT. A. BALL. @luisnani with a great touch and finishes it for the 1-0 lead! #ORLvMIN https://t.co/Vq57R1C7tM

His second was just as impressive, as he was given way too much space on the edge of the box in the 42nd minute and curled an inch-perfect screamer past a fully outstretched Miller to double the lead. 

Major League Soccer @MLS

NANI AGAIN!!! 🎯 https://t.co/EEeS272nwQ

Kevin Egan @kev_egan

Best goal of the season so far. Nani take a bow, or just do your somersault! Outrageous goal 👏🏻 Folks, Orlando haven’t skipped a beat. This team is so balanced, and now with real game changers in Pereira, Nani and Mueller. #MLSisBack #OCSC https://t.co/HkicxcN9cU

Those goals earned Nani top marks on social media, and justifiably so:

Cristian Nyari @Cnyari

Nani looking like Cristiano out there today. #ORLvMIN

Cristian Nyari @Cnyari

Ok it's between Blanco and Nani. The final will decide it. https://t.co/EN1HEvpcX5

Paul Tenorio @PaulTenorio

I know some people wanted to declare Sebastian Blanco as #MLSisBack MVP (cough @samstejskal) but it's Nani.

It was those moments of brilliance that spoiled a performance from Minnesota that it'll be disappointed didn't lead to a place in the final. The teams split possession evenly, but United put up 17 shots to just seven for Orlando City. The difference was that just three of them were on target and only one found the back of the net, while Orlando City put four on target and buried three of them.  

One side was clinical, and one side was not. It was really that simple. 

Minnesota United's one goal was a nice effort from Toye, however, and an even better one from Kevin Molino, who set it up with a stunning, incisive pass:

Major League Soccer @MLS

Back in business! Not over yet. @MasonToye98 pulls one back for @MNUFC. #ORLvMIN https://t.co/8O8OczHZrc

That was the culmination of a steady torrent of threatening moments from United, including this free-kick that required a brilliant save from Pedro Gallese:

Major League Soccer @MLS

What a hit! @pedrogallese made this save look easy. #ORLvMIN https://t.co/3fn90OrZ3n

But despite mounting pressure, Orlando City held off those attacks before Michel finished Minnesota United for good. Unsurprisingly, it was Nani who sent him on his way:

Orlando City SC @OrlandoCitySC

.@AlmightBenji called game. 😈 #ORLvMIN | #VamosOrlando https://t.co/CcyDe4BQS0

The stiffer defense of the Portland Timbers awaits. Portland did well to stifle the Philadelphia Union's dangerous attack, packing the middle of the pitch and hitting Philly on the counter. It's hard to imagine the veteran Timbers giving Nani much space to operate with Tuesday. 

Granted, Nani proved he doesn't need much room to make a major difference.