What goes up, must come down. All good things come to an end.
Yes, these are clichés but that's only because there's a ring of truth to them. And so Orlando's five-game unbeaten streak in MLS and six-game run in all competitions came to a screeching halt last night with a 2-0 loss at Montreal. The Impact looked nominally like the more dangerous team in the first 45 minutes, but were so much better after halftime that the Lions were fortunate not to have suffered a more lopsided defeat.
So, what did we learn? Hopefully that it was an aberration and the team will bounce back, but there were several alarm bells going off last night.
Lions Got Out-Worked
You don't see it very often, but Orlando City flat out got out-worked last night. The Impact got to every 50/50 ball first and were stronger on the ball when two players got there at the same time. The Lions normally fight through challenges and win those 50/50 balls but that extra effort, whether due to fatigue or lack of will, just wasn't there.
The exceptions to this were the back line trio of Sean St. Ledger, Aurelien Collin (before he left with an apparent leg injury), and Luke Boden, who gave full effort and won a lot of balls that prevented clear-cut scoring chances.
Laurent Ciman is Montreal's Aurelien Collin
The Belgian international was brilliant in breaking up Orlando's attacks and really frustrated the Lions throughout the game. His important challenges kept Evan Bush from having to do a whole lot, swiping the ball off Lions and anticipating passes well all over the pitch.
In the first half alone, Ciman had an important intercession to prevent Cyle Larin going 1v1 with the keeper, blocked a scorcher of a shot by Kaká from just inside the box, and prevented a give-and-go between Kaká and Brek Shea. Sometimes you have to tip your cap when an opponent shuts you down and Ciman was like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, picking up everything in his path.
Down the stretch, he took the ball off the foot of Larin at the last second, intercepted another through-ball for Pedro Ribeiro and even led a counter-attack downfield. Quite simply put, he was easily the Man of the Match.
Where Were the Big Two?
Orlando's marquee players are obviously Kaká and Brek Shea. Both were given the midweek off to rest and stay fresh for last night's MLS match in Montreal. Yet they were probably the two worst offenders in giving the ball away cheaply and failing to make much of an impact on the game. Kaká did have one notable blast that Ciman blocked, but his corner kicks and free kicks were lacking, and he tried to take on three defenders on his final foray into the box, leading to the counter attack that killed off the game.
After running free and looking dangerous last week against D.C. United (although his teammates failed to find him time and again), Shea couldn't express himself in the game at all. He did manage a nice cross early and didn't have too bad a first half, but his play degraded in the second 45 minutes. When two veteran playmakers are having a night like that, it's tough to overcome.
Tired Legs Make for a Tiring Game
Personally, I was surprised to see Luke Boden and Lewis Neal in the starting lineup last night. Both worked a hard 120-minute shift on Wednesday night in the heat at Charleston in a draining 4-4 draw (advancing 8-7 on penalties). Both put in long shifts in last Sunday's win over D.C. United in the (even more) heat of Orlando. This was their third start in seven days and it showed.
Boden wasn't able to get forward nearly as much as usual, although he gave all he could, and actually had a very nice cross from a deeper position than usual that led to a chance for Cyle Larin in the 62nd minute. Pity the shot was blocked out for a corner. Neal didn't make too big of an impact but he played hard while he was on the pitch. Rafael Ramos also seemed to lose steam as the game wore on. After coming on for Tyler Turner in the second half Wednesday, he too may have been a bit fatigued and there was no Turner in the 18 to spell him.
Montreal is Actually...Good?
It's easy to look at their point total and a loss to New York City FC (which just won its third straight game) and lament the loss, but the Impact are not a bad club. They have some speed with Romero and Oduro, plenty of skill with Piatti, and a back line that works their tails off. As they get guys healthy, look for them to make a move in the Eastern Conference race.
And they're good at home. Montreal has now won four straight at Stade Saputo, which seems to have a good atmosphere and a passionate group of supporters. Not only is Montreal good at home, but they're earning 1.42 points per game, which is fourth best in the Eastern Conference. If that holds, once they catch up with the games they have in hand, the Impact could become a contender.