183 days. That is the length of Major League Soccer’s grueling regular season. It’s a challenge for any player or team to survive the travel, fatigue, and injuries that go along with it.
420 days. That will be the length of Nani’s combined Liga NOS and MLS seasons. It’s the equivalent to playing 2.3 MLS seasons consecutively.
The fact of the matter is playing every minute of that marathon is not possible, and you won’t find anyone more frustrated with that reality than Head Coach James O’Connor.
“It’s very frustrating because we all want everyone to play every single minute but the last thing we want is our key players – especially our DP’s – to get injured.”, said O’Connor following the loss to Salt Lake.
With the long flight to Salt Lake paired with the altitude, the Orlando City coaching staff felt it was a good opportunity to preserve some of Nani’s minutes.
“We need to make sure that in a situation like this...that we’re sensible in our thoughts because the last thing we want is for him to get injured. So we’re gonna have to be careful when managing his game and trying to keep him as fresh as possible, because the European season is coming to an end and the season here has just started. So we really need to manage that.”
As Nani and Dom Dwyer prepared to enter the match in the 56th minute, the duo seemed primed to make up the one-goal deficit. But just moments before the substitution board was lifted, Salt Lake doubled their lead.
Despite the expanded deficit, Nani and Dwyer provided a spark that nearly led to another Lions comeback.
“When he came on his quality was there for everyone to see, great free kick,” said O’Connor. “We’ve got a lot of possession and the ball zipping across the goal, but I’ll say it again; if we’re gonna give away two really cheap goals like that, it becomes very difficult to get something out of the end game.”
“Dom and Nani’s quality is no secret,” said midfielder Will Johnson. “Those guys come on the field, good things are going to happen for us. But it's what happened before they get on the field to cost us again.”
Prior to Saturday’s match, Nani had started the previous five matches, totaling 423 minutes. So while James O’Connor clearly plans to lean on one of his most talented players, it will be key for the coaching staff to find minutes of recovery to help Nani in the marathon to come.