Nani scored on a free kick in the first half to lift the Lions to a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact at Exploria Stadium in Orlando City’s first open preseason game of 2020. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, and there will be plenty to clean up, but the team got the W.
“The thing that I liked the most is that I saw a team there, with a ball and without it,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “And we’re going to build slowly. It’s normal at this point. We would like many more things better, but we are very content with what we see today,”
Pareja’s starting lineup was Pedro Gallese; Kamal Miller, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, Ruan; Uri Rosell, Junior Urso, Benji Michel; Mauricio Pereyra, Dom Dwyer, and Nani. The team took on a 3-4-3 look in the attack, with Ruan playing higher than his fellow defenders, who fanned out with Miller out left and Carlos on the right, with Schlegel in the center. Michel played like a wingback on the left, with Rosell next to him, but sometimes swapping with Urso, and Ruan out right. Pereyra, Dwyer, and Nani patrolled the top of the formation and switched places fluidly in the opening half.
Defensively, Ruan sagged back and the back four tightened up, with Urso and Rosell adding support and everyone tracking back to help.
The first half was a defensive-minded affair with very few scoring opportunities for either side. The teams took a while to settle in and any progress up the field was ultimately undone by a pass offline. The first shot attempt didn’t come until the 11th minute when Dwyer got his head to a cross from Rosell in traffic but it hit Michel and was cleared.
Montreal got a free kick after a Rosell turnover near midfield as Miller committed a tactical foul and took down Orji Okwonkwo, drawing a yellow card. Sapher Taider took the free kick from about 25 yards out but Gallese made the save comfortably in the 16th minute.
In the 19th minute, Pereyra fired a shot over the bar and in the 28th Dwyer did well to get a piece of a bending cross from Ruan but sent it just wide of goal.
Montreal nearly opened the scoring in the 36th minute as the Impact took the ball down Orlando’s left flank and a ball deflected across the area. A Montreal player shot from close range but Gallese made the save.
“It shows the, the pedigree, that he has,” Pareja said of his goalkeeper. “And you know the the keepers are to stop the ball that we need the most.”
Two minutes later, a nice passing combination sent Nani to the top of the area where he was taken down, setting up a free kick from about 20 yards out. The captain stood over the ball along with Dwyer and Pereyra but it was Nani who struck it — and struck it well — sending it past Evan Bush to make it 1-0 in the 39th minute.
That was the last decent chance for either side in the opening 45 minutes and the Lions took their lead into the break.
The second half was much less fluid from both teams and there weren’t as many clear-cut chances for Orlando, with Montreal nearly taking advantage of a few mistakes by the Lions. Nani gave the ball away in the 51st minute, leading to a shot by Romell Quioto that was well saved by Gallese. Quioto fired just wide in the 60th from the left side, trying to find the inside of the far post after Ruan gave the ball away in his defensive third.
Montreal should have equalized in the 74th minute when Ballou Tabla was able to sneak in past the defense on the right to get onto a cross, but he fired his shot over Gallese’s goal. The Impact’s best chance came in the 85th minute when Maxi Urruti seemingly weaved through the entire Orlando team and struck a shot off the left post.
Orlando had several half chances to put the game away but couldn’t connect the final ball after getting behind the Montreal defense. Second-half sub Chris Mueller forced a save by Bush in the 90th and the goalkeeper spilled it but Tesho Akindele couldn’t quite get onto it for the put-back. Moments later, Mueller got down the left side again but his cutback pass was picked off before David Loera could get there.
After several nervy moments in stoppage time, the whistle blew on a 1-0 victory.
“I think Montreal just moved the ball well and the last 10-15 minutes they created problems for us,” Pareja said. “But we were disciplined and I see the boys battling and trying to win the game despite it being a friendly game.”
“My biggest takeaway is that we got a W,” Michel said. “We can see what we’ve been working on in training all of preseason, the way we want to play and we move the ball and it’s showing in our play. And we were able to get the result. We just need to build off of that, not stay comfortable, and stay hungry.”