Orlando City took a step closer to a home playoff game, beating the Montreal Impact 1-0 on a Daryl Dike goal and five saves by Pedro Gallese at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. The Lions could have clinched the top four had New York City FC not won its game tonight, but Orlando City (10-3-8, 38 points) will take the three points from the Impact (7-13-2, 23 points) and the shutout victory home with them, with just two games left to play in the regular season.
It was Orlando’s first shutout victory of the regular season — after a few 0-0 draws — and the win moved Oscar Pareja into eighth place on the all-time MLS list for coaching victories. Papi moved past Steve Nicol with his 113th win.
“We learned how to win this type of game,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match, referring to the team conceding some late goals in recent weeks to drop points. “We were obviously closer to scoring more goals in the second half but they had one chance as well. Overall I like it. The discipline was there. I think we were great today and we had the personality to get the three points that we needed.”
Pareja’s lineup featured some squad rotation, with Nani and Chris Mueller taking the night off and Ruan and Junior Urso going to the bench. Pedro Gallese took his spot in goal behind a back line of Kamal Miller, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Kyle Smith. Andres Perea and Sebas Mendez manned the central midfield, with Mauricio Pereyra returning to the lineup and Benji Michel completing the midfield. Tesho Akindele and Dike started up top.
The best way to describe the first half is...sleepy. Most of the opening 45 minutes were dominated by the defenses and the teams looked to play carefully. Montreal looked to get forward more than Orlando City, and won the ball in the middle more often with the Impact’s 3-5-2 presenting challenges, but there weren’t many opportunities in the first half hour.
The first decent opportunity came in the 22nd minute after Miller’s beautiful pass sent Michel down the left flank. The Homegrown Player cut into the penalty area and looked to pick out a pass but the defense cleared it out and Montreal went on the break. Samuel Piette fired a shot from the right side and Gallese was there to make the save.
After a lot more play in between the two penalty areas, the Lions found the breakthrough in the 39th minute. Pereyra finally got on the ball in space, facing the goal in the middle of the pitch. The Uruguayan sent an inch perfect pass into Dike’s path and the big rookie smashed it past Clement Diop for his seventh goal of the season and his third in three matches.
“It was a game that was probably missing some precision in the boxes offensively, but in that bright moment, Mauro came and put that beautiful ball to Daryl,” Pareja said.
Pereyra notched his sixth assist of the season tying Mueller for the team lead.
“I didn’t know what to do with the ball when I got it,” Pereyra said with a laugh. “So, I tried to [find someone] open. Nobody was there, so I came inside. I looked and Daryl started to move really fast to change the speed and break the lines. So I waited a little until the last moment when he was in a good moment to get the ball and it was a good ball and a good finish.”
As you’d expect, the Impact pushed the issue after Orlando’s goal and tried to pull it back before the break. Bojan cut around Sebas Mendez in the 44th and hit a shot from a dangerous spot but Jansson blocked it and the Lions cleared. That turned out to be the last chance of the half for either side and Orlando took its 1-0 advantage to the break.
Montreal fired more shots (4-2) with each team getting one on target. Orlando’s only shot attempt other than Dike’s goal was a 30-yard effort from Miller that was way off target after a corner kick clearance found him in the middle of the pitch. The Impact led in corners (2-1), while Orlando City held more possession (52.5%-47.5%). Each team was successful on 83% of its passing attempts in the opening period.
While Orlando City has spent several games pinned in its own end in the second halves of tight matches while nursing a one-goal lead, the Lions were more aggressive out of the locker room in the second half of this one. Orlando pressed up the field, counter-pressed, won the ball, and looked to kill the game off.
Each team got a look in the first 10 minutes of the second half, with Dike firing wide from a tight angle in the 51st, when a pass for Akindele might have been the better play, and Emanuel Maciel firing over the goal two minutes later.
Bojan started looking for space outside the area to free himself up for his blistering long-range shots and he fizzed one over the bar in the 61st minute.
Orlando City then had an excellent opportunity to double the lead through Michel in the 63rd but he couldn’t beat Diop from the top of the area. Seconds later, second-half sub Ruan fizzed a low cross for Dike but couldn’t get enough bend on it and Diop collected.
Bojan got two more opportunities in the 67th and 69th minutes but he hit the first one wide and the second was a volley shot into the ground that he hit softly at Gallese.
The Lions looked to kill off the game but weren’t quite lethal enough in front of goal. Akindele headed a corner kick cross onto the top of the bar in the 72nd minute and moments later he had a golden opportunity to score the second off a pass from Junior Urso, but Diop made a big save.
Diop made another huge stop in the 80th after Mendez won the ball off Bojan and ignited the transition. The ball ended up with Ruan in front of goal but Diop had come off his line and made a sprawling stop to deny the speedy Brazilian.
A minute later, Michel again had a ton of space at the top of the area. He took a pass from Ruan and fired but didn’t hit his shot well, giving Diop a comfortable save.
Montreal threw numbers forward but had trouble beating Jansson and Carlos in the middle. Amar Sejdic fired at Gallese in the 82nd but El Pulpo snared it without spilling it. The best opportunity in stoppage time was another blast from Bojan at the top of the semicircle. Gallese dove to his right and smacked it away with a strong right hand in the 92nd minute.
“I thought we played well,” Smith said. “ We communicated well. We were absorbing some pressure at the end of the game. And I think that we did well with that. Pedro had a very good game coming out and collecting balls and making it easier for the back line to defend. I thought he was man of the match.”
The Lions held on, and were often the more likely team to score in the second half, but in the end, Dike’s strike was the game’s only scoring. Montreal finished with more shots (16-9), but Orlando blocked seven of those and each team got five on target. The Impact doubled up Orlando on corners (6-3), but a flurry of three of those came within a few seconds. Orlando held more possession (51.3%-48.7%), while Montreal was slightly more accurate in passing (85%-84%).
Pareja talked after the game about how the pain of dropping points in recent weeks gave the Lions a chance to learn and respond.
“It just gave us the opportunity to grow. It’s painful because those points [would have] given us an opportunity to fight for the Shield. But today this game taught us that we can be that team. We can close the games and keep the clean sheet as well, and the zero is important for us.”
The Lions improved to 5-6-2 against the Impact in the regular season and 6-6-2 in all competitions, including a win by the same score earlier this year in the MLS is Back Tournament. Orlando reached the 10-win mark in a season for the third time in six seasons, but the previous two times came in a 34-match MLS regular season.
There are just two matches left in the regular season for Orlando City and both are at home. The Lions will next host the Columbus Crew Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m.