A PAIR of first-half goals from former Manchester United star Nani dashed the trophy aspirations of Trinidad and Tobago’s Kevin Molino and Minnesota United on Thursday night in the MLS is Back tournament semi-finals in Kissimmee. Nani’s goals sealed a place for Orlando City in next Tuesday’s final with a comprehensive 3-1 victory.
It was Orlando’s first ever win in four attempts against Minnesota. Molino’s former club had not even made it to the playoffs stage in five previous seasons as an MLS club but they are now one game away from lifting a trophy.
Having just recovered from a hamstring injury and out of action for three matches, Carenage-born midfielder Molino came off the bench to great effect in the second half. The former East Mucurapo Secondary standout’s impact was immediately felt as previously unbeaten Minnesota dominated and pegged back the home team for most of the second half before Orlando got a third goal on the break, deep into stoppage time.
Orlando City’s captain Nani scored two beautiful first-half goals. For the first, the now 33-year-old Portuguese left-winger collected a 60-yard ball from centre-back Robin Jansson in the 36th minute, beat the Loons’ right back Hassani Dotson with a delightful first touch and then finished underneath goalie Tyler Miller.
Nani, who played among the ranks of Manchester United between 2007-2015, then produced an even better second goal in the 42nd minute, collecting another pinged-in ball on the left flank before curling home an inch-perfect shot to the far post.
Molino’s introduction added punch to a stagnant Minnesota attack and they went on to outshoot Orlando 20 to seven over the 90 minutes. Under ever increasing Minnesota pressure, Orlando spent the second half mainly defending in their half of the field and the dam eventually broke in the 83rd minute, as Mason Toye clawed one back for the Loons.
Molino’s gorgeous inside pass picked out the striker behind two defenders and Toye slid a left-footed shot underneath goalie Pedro Gallese to make it 2-1.
Minnesota had a couple of excellent chances to pull level, including an open header which the goal-scorer Toye put wide when staring down the middle of the goal with just a few minutes left.
With Minnesota pouring forward and sending both centre-backs into the attack late, in search of an equaliser, it was Orlando who next found the net when 22-year-old substitute Benji Michel was sprung through on a counter-attack and calmly rounded goalkeeper Miller in the 96th minute to seal the 3-1 result.
Orlando will play the Portland Timbers in Tuesday’s final.