Chris Mueller gave Orlando City a halftime lead but the Lions gave up a set piece goal early in the second half to drop valuable points in a 1-1 draw against CF Montreal at Exploria Stadium. The Lions (12-8-10, 46 points) ran their unbeaten streak to four matches (2-0-2) but a lack of sharpness around goal in the first half and a flat start to the second period helped Montreal (11-10-9, 42 points) escape with a point on Rudy Camacho goal.
The dropped points will sting with four games remaining in a tight playoff race as the Lions must still face the top two teams in the Eastern Conference in their last two home games and go on the road to Columbus and Montreal — two places they’ve rarely won.
“I think we can divide the game into two different halves,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We felt that we needed to put the game away but we could not score more than one goal and just left the game there for any opportunity that they had.”
Pareja’s lineup featured Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Emmanuel Mas, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel (for the suspended Antonio Carlos), and Ruan. Uri Rosell slotted into the central midfield with Junior Urso, with Mauricio Pereyra and Chris Mueller tasked with facilitating the attack to Benji Michel and Daryl Dike. Nani started on the bench.
Orlando spent much of the first half on the front foot, but had little to show for it. The first good opportunity came in the 13th minute off a corner kick that fell for Urso in the box. The Bear fired a shot toward goal but it took a deflection off a defender and hit the crossbar before flying out of play.
Two minutes later, Jansson was forward for a set piece, took the ball up the left side and fired a shot that was deflected out for a corner. In the 17th minute, Dike bulled his way through multiple defenders to get into the box but Samuel Piette got his foot on the ball and was able to clear the danger just as the forward was shooting.
In the 26th minute it was Michel’s turn to get his effort blocked out of play but for some reason a goal kick was awarded despite the obvious deflection. Dike then headed just over the bar in the 29th minute off a Michel cross.
The Lions looked to counter in the 35th minute when former Orlando City defender Kamal Miller was caught upfield, but Pereyra couldn’t get his outlet pass out wide, where only teammates Mueller and Ruan were waiting to break in on goal.
Orlando was finally rewarded for all of its pressure just before the break. Urso found Dike in transition and as he tried to get past the defense, Miller fouled him but play continued as the ball fell into the path of Ruan. The speedy right back tried to cross for a streaking Michel in the area but the pass was off line. However, Mueller was on the other side of the area and hit his shot into the netting inside the right post to put the Lions ahead in the 45th minute.
It was Mueller’s third goal of the season, the 21st of his Orlando City career, and first since July 3 against the New York Red Bulls. It snapped a 14-game goal drought for the Money Badger.
“The team made a nice combination play out the back end,” Mueller said. “The ball accelerated up the right side, found Daryl, who slipped in Ruan. I just did my job and got to the back post and it just felt good to score.”
Montreal had slightly more possession (51%-49%) although it didn’t seem like it. Orlando dominated in shots (8-0) — but only got one on goal for a 1-0 edge in that category — and corners (5-1). The visitors passed more accurately (85.3%-83.3%).
The goal just before the half should have buoyed the Lions but instead the opposite happened. Montreal came out of the locker room on the front foot and Orlando struggled to maintain possession, break pressure, and connect passes. The visitors quickly got on the front foot.
Just four minutes after the restart Orlando fell asleep defensively and left second-half substitute Sunusi Ibrahim alone as he cut through the area. A good cross found the Nigerian right in front and Gallese made a huge save to protect the lead.
Unfortunately, the lead lasted only two more minutes. Djordje Mihailovic sent in a dangerous cross on a corner kick and Camacho beat Rosell to the near post and equalized in the 51st minute, scoring for just the second time all season.
With the game tied, Montreal started sitting back and looking for counter opportunities, content to draw on the road while hoping to steal all three points. To the visitors’ credit, they did a good job of staying compact and giving Orlando problems fighting through their lines. Passes and touches needed to be precise and the Lions had trouble maintaining enough sharpness to finish plays.
Pareja put on Nani and Silvester van der Water to try to go for all three points but the Dutchman had a poor night as Montreal overplayed his left side. Rather than using his weaker foot to make plays, van der Water tried to force the ball through congested spaces and ended up either losing it or being forced to play negative balls to his midfield and defense.
Orlando settled down somewhat and started to generate better attacks after that but couldn’t find the winner. Pereyra found some space between the center backs at the top of the box in the 74th minute but his shot was just wide of the left post. Two minutes later, the Lions should have regained the lead. Ruan cut inside and sent a pass to Dike, who got himself into a good position in the box. Dike fired a shot that was saved by goalkeeper James Pantemis but the rebound popped back out in front of goal. With Nani teeing up a shot on his right foot, Ruan got to the ball first and fired with his left foot but it was blocked by a defender.
On the ensuing corner, Jansson sent in another shot after the ball pinged around the box for a moment but his shot too was blocked. Pareja sent Tesho Akindele and Alexandre Pato on for Pereyra and Dike to add fresh legs to the attack in the 86th minute. Pato’s seven months off and lack of time on the pitch in games showed in his late appearance, as he had a couple of opportunities in the attack but wasn’t on the same page as his teammates.
The later it got, the tighter Montreal’s bunker became and the final whistle blew on a 1-1 draw. The dropped points were somewhat mitigated by results elsewhere but it wasn’t a good enough result given the chances generated and the dominating nature of the first half.
Orlando finished with more possession (52.5%-47.5%), shots (13-6), shots on target (4-2), and corners (7-3), and the teams were even in passing accuracy at 84.4% each
“We came out the first 10-15 minutes where they got the ball and started creating some chances,” Pareja said. “After that the reaction from our group was better but at the end it was playing against a team sitting there. That last pass. That ball that needed to break that line of five plus the midfielders, that was difficult. But I know it’s a bitter result because we chased and we fought for those three points but we’ll keep building on that performance, especially in the first half when we were very sharp.”
Orlando City has another quick turnaround with the first-place New England Revolution coming to the City Beautiful on Sunday.