Tesho Akindele took advantage of a mistake at the back by Montreal defender Rod Fanni to score the game’s only goal as Orlando City defeated the Impact 1-0 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The Lions are through to the MLS is Back Tournament quarterfinals after dispatching the Impact, improving to 3-0-1 since the restart, although this match won’t count in the league standings.
Orlando improved to 5-6-2 against Montreal in all competitions.
“Tonight’s match was very difficult opponent, different than the ones that we have faced in the first stage of the tournament,” Pareja said after the game. “The boys had the personality to (establish) conditions and set the tempo of the game early on. We should have scored a couple of goals but those things we need to improve.”
Pareja rested Dom Dwyer and Junior Urso and went with a 4-2-3-1 with goalkeeper Pedro Gallese behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. The defensive midfield consisted of Uri Rosell and Sebas Mendez, behind an attacking midfield of Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, and Chris Mueller, with Akindele up top.
Orlando City started as the much sharper team and controlled the opening 20 minutes. The Lions, however, squandered multiple opportunities to take the lead in the opening period. The first such chance came in the seventh minute when Ruan found Nani, who back-heeled it to a wide-open Pereyra, but the Uruguayan couldn’t get his shot on target, missing badly from point-blank range.
In the 11th minute, another nice Orlando buildup ended up on Mendez’s foot but he fired a moon shot high into the air without even leaving the field of play, misfiring badly on his shot. Four minutes later, Mueller cut across the top of the box and freed himself up straight out from goal, but rather than ripping a shot on goal, he slipped a pass to Akindele, who was five yards offside at the time.
In the 21st minute, Nani had an exquisite touch on a long ball down the left channel and fizzed a pass into the area. Clement Diop got a finger on it but it came right to Mueller, who couldn’t pull the trigger. It was a similar play to the one Dwyer had in the Miami match, only easier. Somehow he was caught off guard with the ball in front of him and no goalkeeper in sight, and the chance evaporated.
Montreal finally fashioned some danger after that missed opportunity. A free kick conceded by Mendez ended up at the back post for the Impact but Fanni’s foot prevented Romell Quioto from getting to it in the 24th minute. Two minutes later, Quioto sent in a cross from the left that found Samuel Piette and his header was saved by Gallese.
The Lions got back on the front foot after the hydration break and Mendez squandered two more golden opportunities to open the scoring. The first was saved by Diop in the 38th minute, after a great buildup down the right by Ruan and Mueller. The ball was fizzed into the box and fell for Mendez. The Ecuadorian stopped, allowing a sliding defender to glide past, then spun and fired but left his shot too close to the keeper.
Three minutes later, Mueller slipped Mendez a pass and he smashed one just a foot or so over the crossbar.
Mendez should have scored in the 45th minute. The Lions worked some quick passes down the middle of the box and Mendez put the ball in the net but the flag came up. The assistant referee ruled Akindele offside in the buildup and the video appeared to show him even with the last defender. Because the call on the field was offside, the play was not overturned. Had the flag stayed down — as it should have — it also would not likely have been overturned. Nevertheless, the call prevented Orlando from taking a deserved lead into halftime.
Orlando led in shots (5-4) with each getting one on target. The Lions held 63.8% of the possession and was the more accurate passing side (90%-81%). Unfortunately, the only AR on the planet who raises his flag on a close play and a few missed golden chances had the sides even at the break.
Thierry Henry made a tactical change at the half, sending Jukka Raitala on for Orji Okwonkwo and going three at the back to try to prevent Ruan and Mueller getting down the right behind Jorge Corrales. It worked for a while until Orlando started figuring out how to break through Montreal’s lines.
“We were sure that they would readjust (at halftime),” Pareja said. “We spoke about that formation and five in the back and trying to get the wingbacks higher, and tried to condense the middle. We didn’t want to move our formation or try to do something different. We just wanted to continue what we had, and it took us five minutes, seven minutes, to adjust to it. I think we did.”
Mendez continued to get the bulk of Orlando’s scoring chances as players continued to put him in good spots, but he failed to play in Akindele in the 55th until Tesho had gotten behind the defense in an offside position and then had a shot blocked out for a corner in the 56th. But the Ecuadorian was partly responsible for the game’s only goal.
In the 60th minute, a ball was played in behind for Mendez but Fanni got there just a split second earlier. But the Montreal defender sent a back pass for Diop who had already come off his line to cut down the angle for a potential shot by Mendez. The touch from Fanni handed Akindele a tap-in and took an offside call completely off the table. Tesho obliged, scoring his second goal of the year.
Following the goal, Orlando looked to stay organized and wait for transition opportunities. Montreal saw a lot more of the ball but could do very little with it, aside from switching sides back and forth around the perimeter.
Pareja used his substitutions to keep his troops fresh as time wound down. Those subs included the MLS debuts of rookies Darryl Dike and Joey DeZart. Dike immediately got on the ball and nearly fashioned himself a scoring chance before being cut off, but he was active and throwing his weight around. He looked strong and has good feet, but he’s very raw and will need to develop some. However, DeZart helped shepherd the Impact’s attack from side to side.
Still, it was just a one-goal game and Montreal soon got its best opportunity of the match, as a cross found Quioto, who had gotten in between the two Orlando center backs. The former Houston Dynamo star headed his effort wide of Gallese’s goal and the Peruvian may have had the post covered anyway.
From there, Orlando employed legal and illegal means of seeing out the remaining minutes and six minutes of stoppage time. Gallese was booked for time wasting, while sub Kyle Smith helped keep the ball down in Montreal’s end for a good chunk of the added time.
Orlando out-shot the Impact 10-7 and had more shots on goal, although it was a wasteful 2-1 advantage. The Lions finished with 56.6% of the possession and was the more accurate passing team (89%-83%)
Akindele talked about the team’s ability to hold onto the lead after scoring first.
“Yeah, that was really important for us. And I think that over the past few games we’ve shown that we’ve done a good job of doing that,” he said. “We’ve had the lead and we’ve held on to the lead a few times in a row. It shows a strong mentality, it shows good organization from the team, and it just shows dedication to the cause from the front to the back.”
Orlando City moves into the quarterfinals next Friday at 7:30 p.m., when it will face what will be by far the team’s greatest challenge of the tournament — against the winner of the LAFC vs. Seattle Sounders match. That battle will take place in the late match Monday night starting at 11 p.m.