The Lions are no longer unbeaten in 2019. The Montreal Impact (2-1-0, 6 points) capitalized on two quick errors in the first half and took control en route to a 3-1 win over Orlando City (0-1-2, 2 points) in front of an announced crowd of 22,352 at Orlando City Stadium.
The Lions were sloppy throughout what turned out to be a chippy and contentious match, and made numerous mistakes to give Montreal scoring opportunities.
Orlando fell to 3-6-2 against Montreal in the all-time series and 2-3-1 at home. The Impact are unbeaten in the last six meetings (5-0-1). The Lions at least finally scored against the Impact after getting shut out in both meetings last year.
“Our mentality needs to be way stronger,” said Head Coach James O’Connor after the match. “To play for this football club you need to have a really strong mentality. When you defend the way we did, you make it practically impossible to give yourself a chance of going and winning the game. You can’t defend like that and expect to get something out of the game.”
O’Connor dropped Alex De John from the starting XI in order to insert Carlos Ascues on the back line. Kamal Miller was dropped from the 18 as the coaching staff would like to manage the rookie’s minutes. As expected, Dom Dwyer stepped into the starting lineup for the injured Tesho Akindele, with rookie Santiago Patino making the game day 18 for the first time in his career.
Despite the graphic, the team played in what appeared to be a 4-3-3 with Nani, Dwyer, and Chris Mueller at the top above Will Johnson, Sebas Mendez, and Sacha Kljestan. The back four (left to right) were Danilo Acosta, Ascues, Shane O’Neill, and Ruan.
Orlando started the game by nearly conceding, which was a sign of things to come. Ascues had a giveaway that created an early chance for Montreal.
“I felt very positive going into the game. I felt very confident. And then we started the game in the worst possible way,” Kljestan said. “Nearly off the kickoff we almost gifted them a goal, off our possession, just passing it right to their forward almost. That kind of set the tone for the rest of the day and we never really got better from that point and we weren’t good enough in the attacking third.”
Despite the early gaffe, Orlando could have scored the first goal. Johnson stole a ball in the fourth minute and worked his way forward but got taken down from behind at the top of the box on what should have been a free kick. Three minutes later, Dwyer blasted a shot over the bar off a Nani feed.
Moments later, Ruan sent either a shot or a cross wide of the far post. But things unraveled quickly in the span of two minutes. Ascues was slow to close down Orji Okwonkwo after a partially blocked cross found the Montreal forward and Mendez also didn’t do well enough in defense on the play. Okwonkwo turned quickly and fired off the inside of Brian Rowe’s far post to make it 1-0 in the 14th minute.
The Lions then gifted a second goal to the visitors moments later. O’Neill’s horrible back pass was halfway between Rowe and two Montreal attackers. Rowe came off his line to try to clear it but got only Maxi Urruti. That left Ignacio Piatti to deposit his ninth goal against Orlando into an empty net to make it 2-0 in the 15th. Rowe was booked for taking down Urruti.
“You cannot start games like that,” O’Connor said. “And then, if you are going to start the game like that you need to have to have a stronger mentality.”
Making matters worse was that Johnson was forced to the locker room for concussion protocol. He had returned from the early collision in which he was knocked down from behind by Samuel Piette and his head hit on Victor Cabrera as he fell. Johnson returned to the match but must not have felt right and he left the pitch with his team down, 2-0, eventually being replaced by Cristian Higuita.
“It looks like he’s suffering from a blow to the head, so I think the safest thing obviously was to take him off,” O’Connor said of Johnson’s injury. “It was a blow for us, because obviously he’s someone who has been playing very well. Even in the first couple of minutes, he steals the ball in the midfield, drives to the top of the box...it looked like a free kick, but it wasn’t given.”
The Lions had chances to pull one back before halftime but couldn’t execute. Ruan got loose in the box in the 31st minute and sent a cross through traffic but none of his teammates made a back post run and the ball fizzed harmlessly through the area. Four minutes later Ruan found Dwyer with a cross but Dom headed down and right at Evan Bush from point-blank range.
Mueller cut from left to right and fired just inches over the bar at the back post in the 42nd minute.
Montreal got the last decent chance of the half when Okwonkwo got down the right channel and fired but Rowe made the save.
First-half shots were 10-3 in favor of Montreal (5-1 on target), with the Impact holding a 56%-44% edge in possession. Montreal was also the more accurate passing team, completing 80% of all passes, compared to Orlando’s 75%.
Rowe came up big on an Okwonkwo shot in the 47th minute after another Orlando turnover, as the Lions continued to be much looser with the ball all day than in the first two games.
The game started to get more physical and heated after that, with Mendez and Saphir Taider both staying down after a challenge and then Acosta getting booked after a hard aerial challenge against Bacary Sagna, in which it looked like he was simply playing the ball. Montreal took exception and Okwonkwo was booked for retaliating on Acosta moments later.
Orlando should have been back in the game in the 58th minute. Mueller blocked a Cabrera pass and it fell at Dwyer’s feet. With a gaping wide net and only Bush to beat, Dwyer got his shot around the keeper but missed the target completely.
Orlando kept pressing numbers forward to try to claw back into the game and it allowed Montreal to pile up chances. Rowe had to come off his line to thwart Taider on the rush in the 59th minute and Ascues had to clear the ball out after it trickled in behind.
A minute later, Okwonkwo got a shot off while well covered that hit Ascues’ shin and blooped just over the crossbar.
In the 68th, Okwonkwo again got in down the right after a soft pass out of the back never reached Kljestan, but Rowe came out and made a crucial save. Two minutes later, Rowe came out again to beat Piatti to a ball to prevent a scoring chance.
Dwyer had his third excellent scoring chance in the 74th. Nani made a nice play on the left and sent a cross into the 6-yard box. Dwyer got a toe onto it but it trickled just wide of the far post.
After that, O’Connor sent on rookie Santiago Patino — making his MLS debut — and Josué Colmán to try to add something to the attack. Instead, the Montreal lead grew to 3-0 in the 80th minute. Piatti scored his 10th career goal against the Lions. Kljestan tried to turn and clear the ball forward but second-half sub Harry Novillo closed him down and deflected the ball in behind, where it became a Montreal 2-v-1. Piatti doesn’t miss those, especially when there’s only one defender back — Ascues, in this case. With Acosta and Ruan both pressing forward, Piatti easily dispatched Kljestan and slotted home.
“Towards the end we’ve made changes and we’ve got Ruan playing right center back and Sebas playing left center back,” O’Connor said. “So, over the last 15-20 minutes or whatever it is, we’ve made changes to try and get ourselves back into the game because we’re two-nil down. I think when you do that you leave yourself wide open.”
The Impact should have made it 4-0 in the 89th, when Zakaria Diallo got a free header right in front of goal, but he got under it and sent it well over the bar.
Two minutes later, Orlando, and Dwyer, finally finished a chance.
City won the ball in midfield and worked out wide right to Mueller. The second-year Lion put a perfect ball onto Patino’s foot and the rookie drew Bush out off his line and slid a pass over for Dwyer to swipe into the empty net for his second goal of the season.
“Chris played me a great ball,” Patino said of his first MLS assist. “I took a touch. I saw Dom making a run and I just gave it to him.”
As it got late into stoppage time, the Impact took exception to a through ball played on what was a drop ball situation. O’Connor apologized to Montreal after the game, saying “that’s not a good representation of this football club.”
Diallo was sent off during the fracas after grabbing Dwyer’s head and shoving him to the ground. Higuita was booked on the play.
That was about it. The whistle blew and Orlando City had its first loss of 2019.
“There was a general nervousness to our play,” O’Connor. “The start certainly didn’t help. We seemed to be edgy. Honestly it’s not good enough. The first two games we feel we were able to set a standard and we were way off today. We were nowhere near the level of what we want.”
“I expect us to come back stronger,” Kljestan said after the game. “We’ve got to react in a positive way. Bad performance tonight but hopefully we learn our lesson and do better next time.”
The Lions go back on the road next Saturday but getting their first win won’t be easy, as they visit the New York Red Bulls at 7:30 p.m.