Orlando City’s 2022 MLS season opened at home with a 2-0 win over CF Montreal, but tonight it ended with a 2-0 loss to the same team at Stade Saputo in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs. The seventh-seeded Lions went to Canada with the mentality of being difficult to break down and looking for opportunities to score in transition against No. 2 seed Montreal — and had the better of the few chances for much of the game — but in the end, the hosts found a breakthrough in the late stages of the second half and flattered their winning margin with a penalty deep in stoppage time.
Ismael Kone and Djordje Mihailovic provided the offense for CF Montreal as the home team won each of the three meetings between the teams this season.
“First of all, congratulations to Montreal,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We had our chances, especially in the first half. These kinds of games, you have to be decisive. You have to finish.”
Pareja’s lineup included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo took up his central midfield position with Junior Urso, behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres — with Pereyra and Urso swapping as has been common this year — with Ercan Kara up top.
The first half was incredibly nervy, with Montreal keeping the bulk of the possession and trying to pull the Lions’ shape apart. Orlando had to keep Angulo deep to prevent switches down the right to Alistair Johnston and Mihailovic and, although it worked from a defensive standpoint, the Lions could get little going the other way as a result.
Orlando had to wait patiently for opportunities to counter and managed to get the best shot opportunities of the opening half but could not maintain enough composure to hit the target behind goalkeeper James Pantemis.
The first attacking movement that resulted in an attempt for either side came eight minutes in when former Lion Kamal Miller sent in a cross from the midfield and Kei Kamara got a head to it but could do nothing with it, popping it up well out of play. A minute later, Lassi Lappalainen beat Ruan on the left wing and cut inside but his cross/shot was blocked away. Montreal’s best attack in transition came in the 10th minute and Carlos did just enough to get his backheel to a cross from Johnston to keep it from finding Kamara in front.
Montreal players tried to bait referee Ismail Elfath into a couple of penalty kicks in the first half. Kone went down softly after contact with Ruan in the 18th minute but Elfath immediately waved off the penalty shouts and the video assistant referee upheld the no-call.
Orlando should have scored against the run of play in the 25th minute. Kara got in behind on the left and had Ruan breaking for the net to his right. The Austrian chose to go for goal himself, but his attempt fizzed agonizingly just over the bar.
Ten minutes later, it was Pereyra unlocking the defense with a filthy pass through the back line for Angulo to run onto. Angulo had options to his right but cut inside his defender and fired his right-footed shot over the crossbar.
In the 45th minute, Lappalainen went down easily, looking for a penalty after beating Ruan and feeling pressure from Araujo. There was minor contact between the two while Araujo was pulling his leg out of the way but Lappalainen was already going down. Again, Elfath waved off penalty shouts and the VAR check upstairs upheld the no-call.
Orlando got one more look in first-half stoppage time off a free kick near midfield. The Lions worked the kick to the right and then fired a cross into the box. Carlos chested it down and then blasted a shot — you guessed it — over the bar. The center back may have been offside anyway, but with the shot going out for a goal kick, there was no need for a review.
The half ended all even on the scoreboard despite Montreal dominating possession and preventing the Lions from finding any kind of rhythm. Montreal led in possession (62.7%-37.3%), passing accuracy (89%-80.8%), and corners (1-0). Both teams attempted three shots and neither put one on target.
Rudy Camacho headed wide on a corner early in the second half for Montreal as the hosts looked to keep the pressure on Orlando.
But the Lions again fashioned a decent look at goal in the 51st minute when Torres got free at the top of the area. However, like everyone else on the night, Torres missed the target with his shot.
“We have to convert those chances and take those opportunities, and in those moments, the details slipped from us,” Torres said. “They had chances on their side that they were able to take and convert.”
Kamara got his best opportunitiy of the game in the 59th minute on a transition opportunity but he hit his effort into the outside netting. A few minutes later, Urso did well to jump and block a Mihailovic set piece shot.
Orlando had a promising counter attack in the 65th minute, but it broke down when Angulo sent an errant pass forward that was easily picked off. That loss of possession was costly.
Montreal came the other way and scored in the 68th minute. Passing around their right side, the hosts worked the ball from the wing to the top of the box, and eventually to Mihailovic outside the top of the area. Pereyra was late getting to Mihailovic, who slipped it to Kone, who had crept in the back side without any attention from Ruan, while Carlos had drifted left to provide coverage in case Kamara turned on Schlegel. However, the veteran striker quickly played back for Mihailovic instead, which opened up the defense. Kone slotted past Gallese to open the scoring.
BREAKTHROUGH— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 17, 2022
Ismael Kone finishes a slick move for the @cfmontreal opener!#MTLvORL // Audi #MLSCupPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/mB05hwNBs7
“We were defending in that particular moment in the lower blocks,” Pareja said. “They were moving the ball. We didn’t close our gaps on the right side and then (Mihailovic) just finds Kone on that connection. We were separated from our defenders in that moment. It was a moment that we couldn’t control.”
Pareja brought on Benji Michel and Jake Mulraney for Urso and Angulo to try to add something to the attack but neither made much of a mark at all on the match. The duo combined for just 10 touches — only three by Mulraney — over the game’s final 13 minutes of normal time and about 10 minutes of added time.
Moutinho knocked down Mihailovic near the edge of the box late in stoppage time, trying to recover possession. Elfath gave the foul as a free kick, but after reviewing the replay, he awarded a penalty, as the initial contact was just inside the box. The unnecessary foul was costly as Mihailovic slotted his spot kick inside the right post to double the lead and put the game away.
The finishing touch from @DjoMihailovic. A 2-0 lead for the hosts!#MTLvORL // Audi #MLSCupPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/wtYAFzfH6o— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 17, 2022
Montreal finished with more possession (59%-41%), shots (11-5), shots on target (2-0), corners (2-1), and passing accuracy (87.6%-81.8%). Despite the hosts having all of those statistical advantages, it simply came down to one team finishing two chances and the other not putting its own opportunities on target.
“The way (Montreal) played and they used the spaces, I thought we did a great job on that, but it is what it is,” Pareja said. “I’m very proud of this group, very grateful for the effort of the boys. They made us feel very proud. They took this club to a different level and people should be proud about the season.”
“Everyone’s very sad with not being able to get the victory and move on to the next round,” Torres said through a club interpreter. “Just hurting from a very painful loss, but now we regroup and get better in the off-season for next year.”
That’s it for the season, and each year the finality of that is always painful for fans of every team except the one hoisting MLS Cup. The Lions were not supposed to win this match but still put themselves in a position to do so against the league’s hottest team down the stretch — and did so on the road.
While the result may sting, it’s easy to forget that this is a team that had to completely rebuild the attack from last year, played without a starting central defender. and lost Alexandre Pato to injury months ago.
Still, Orlando made the playoffs for a third straight year, had a double-digit goal scorer for the eighth consecutive year — the first team in MLS history to do it in its first eight years consecutively — and won the U.S. Open Cup.
It’s not an MLS Cup-winning season, but it wasn’t a bad run in 2022.