ORLANDO, United States, Aug 7 – Nani bagged a double to fire Orlando into the final of the “MLS is Back” restart tournament on Thursday with a 3-1 victory over Minnesota United.
Former Manchester United winger Nani pounced twice in six first-half minutes to effectively settle the semi-final at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Florida.
Orlando will now play Portland Timbers in next Tuesday’s final of the Major League Soccer restart event.
Portugal international Nani’s first goal came on 36 minutes, when a raking long pass forward from Swedish defender Robin Jansson released the Orlando captain down the left.
Nani’s delicate first touch took him clear of his marker in the inside channel, and he calmly made no mistake with the finish past Minnesota goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
It got better six minutes later when Nani found himself in space at the edge of the penalty area.
With Minnesota’s defenders failing to close him down, the 33-year-old took his time and curled in a superb long range effort that beat the diving Miller at the far post.
Orlando controlled the contest for long spells from that point, dictating the tempo and stroking passes around comfortably to frustrate Minnesota’s attempts to get back in the game.
Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese barely had a save to make until the 75th minute, when he tipped over a thunderous long-range free kick from Minnesota substitute Raheem Edwards.
But a wave of changes from Minnesota manager Adrian Heath finally yielded a reward seven minutes from time when Kevin Molino picked out fellow substitute Mason Toye with a perfectly weighted through ball.
There was a hint of offside about Toye’s position but the forward made no mistake with the finish to make it 2-1.
Minnesota pressed relentlessly in the closing stages for an improbable equalizer but Orlando repelled each attack.
In the final minute of injury time with Minnesota pressing for a second, Orlando counter-attacked and substitute Benji Michel rounded Miller for 3-1.
The victory leaves Orlando on course for their first piece of silverware since joining MLS in 2015.
But it was a disappointing exit for Minnesota manager Heath, who was abruptly fired by Orlando in 2016 before joining the Loons several months later.
The “MLS is Back” tournament is taking place in Orlando following the league’s four-month shutdown due to the coronavirus.