Second-half goals from Alexandre Pato and Benji Michel lifted Orlando City to a 2-0 opening day victory over CF Montreal (0-1-0, 0 points) at Exploria Stadium. The Lions (1-0-0, 3 points) improved to 2-0-6 on opening day since joining MLS, winning the season’s first match for the first time since a 1-0 stadium-christening victory over New York City FC in 2017. The Lions have not conceded a goal on opening day since Oscar Pareja became head coach.
“I like the game. I thought we played against a very good team. Montreal has been in competition earlier than everybody else and we find that as difficulty,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “But we matched that up and we ended up scoring goals and being precise when we had to.”
“It’s a good start of the season to get a first win, especially at home,” Michel said.
Pareja’s lineup featured goalkeeper Pedro Gallese behind the first-choice back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. U22 Initiative midfielder Cesar Araujo got his first MLS start as the No. 6 in place of Sebas Mendez, with Andres Perea in the box-to-box role. Mauricio Pereyra, Facu Torres, and Michel made up the attacking midfield with Pato as the starting striker.
Montreal started the game with more energy than the hosts, keeping the ball deep in Orlando’s end for most of the first five minutes and earning multiple set piece. Romell Quioto got the game’s first half-chance in the 16th minute when he got to the end line and eluded Gallese but flashed a sharp-angle shot across the front of goal.
Orlando’s first shot attempt came in the 20th minute. After Michel was fouled by Alistair Johnston on the left side, just outside the top of the box, Pato sent a shot that hit the wall and caromed back to Torres. The Young Designated Player fired a shot that took a deflection off a defender and went wide.
The Lions should have scored on the counter in the 29th minute. Montreal turned it over in their own half and a pass for Pato was just behind the forward, so he dropped it off for Pereyra to run onto. The captain fired a shot that sailed just over the bar.
Djordje Mihailovic was open at the top of the box for a shot in the 36th minute on a Montreal counter but he hit his shot right at Gallese.
Five minutes later, the Lions got their best look of the first half. A ball in for Pato was headed up in the air by the defense. Pato did well to follow it and send a strong header low toward the near post. Sebastian Breza did well to get down and make a good save to keep the game scoreless in the 41st.
Orlando then had numbers in transition in first-half stoppage time but Michel hesitated while wide open on the right side of the area, looking for a pass instead. The chance evaporated when the defense knocked the ball away.
Orlando out-shot the visitors 4-2 in the opening 45 minutes, with each getting one on target. Montreal had slightly more possession (51.6%-48.4%), was more accurate in passing (87.8%-84.3%), and won more corners (5-3).
Pareja sent Junior Urso in for Perea at the break and it helped solidify the midfield. Urso’s instinctive play helped Orlando turn Montreal over more in the second 45.
However, Montreal came out of the locker room with good energy and created a flurry of shots in the opening moments. Moutinho blocked the first effort and a second shot from distance was easy for Gallese to collect. Matko Miljevic tried a long shot from the left but again Gallese handled it easily.
The Lions opened the scoring moments later. Torres sent the ball to Pereyra on the right side and the captain sent Ruan in behind Kamal Miller down the flank. Ruan sent a low cross to the back post. Despite a defender getting a slight touch on it, the ball got through to Pato, who calmly fired home to make it 1-0 in the 49th minute. It was Pato’s first MLS goal.
After the goal, Pato ran over and celebrated with Pareja on the sideline.
“It has been a rocky journey for Alex the last year. An injury kept him out of the team for so long,” Pareja said. “He wants to help the team and I thought (the goal) was a joy that we wanted to share because I know how much he has worked for that.”
Pato’s goal snapped a 244-minute opening day scoring drought by the Lions that dates back to the 75th minute in 2019 against New York City FC.
The Lions stayed on the front foot after the goal. A good attacking possession in the 58th minute ended with Michel redirecting a Pato pass wide of the net. But a minute later, Benji got his goal. Urso intercepted a pass off a goal kick and fed the ball to Pereyra in the middle. The Uruguayan sent a ball in for Michel, who was slicing diagonally through the area. Michel beat his defender and slotted home to make it 2-0 in the 59th minute.
“I saw Urso steal the ball and I was just very alert, like the ball could be coming to me, so I was just ready, making sure I was in a good position,” Michel said of the goal. “Before (Pereyra) got the ball, he looked at me, and as soon as he got the ball I knew was coming and I had to be ready and execute the play.”
Joaquin Torres had a chance to cut the lead in half in the 62nd minute, as he found space just outside the area in the middle to turn and fire. His shot went over Gallese’s crossbar.
Four minutes later, Montreal’s situation got even worse. Quioto was bodied off the ball in the area and it went behind for a goal kick. Frustrated, the Montreal defender got up and threw a shoulder into Carlos’ chest. Jansson stepped between Quioto and his teammate and the Montreal striker struck the Swede with both fists in the chest. Referee Marcos de Oliveira showed Quioto a straight red. Importantly, Jansson was also given a yellow card, although he did very little other than get in between the two players.
Striker Ercan Kara made his MLS debut for Orlando in the 69th minute, coming on for Michel.
Down a man, Montreal continued to chase the game, but struggled to create clear-cut chances, settling for shots from long range and not doing much with a corner kick opportunity.
Jansson picked up a second yellow for a tactical foul in the 81st minute and will miss next weekend’s road match as a result. The game got a bit chaotic after that, with Rodrigo Schlegel coming on for Torres and the teams played 10-v-10.
“At the end the game became a bit messy. That we don’t want, but I thought we had the matureness to deal with it and just bring these three points to the people. We’re happy for this start,” said Pareja.
The Lions struggled to maintain control of the ball. Montreal’s best chance to get back in the game came in the 85th minute, when Johnston fizzed a ball through the six, but Carlos and Ruan did well at the back post to wall off defenders and prevent a scoring chance.
Schlegel conceded a dangerous free kick in the 89th minute but Joaquin Torres missed the mark badly on the set piece, sending his shot high into the stands.
Orlando saw out the six minutes of stoppage time without incident and took all three points.
Each team attempted eight shots in the match, with Orlando getting more on target (3-2). Montreal held a smidge more possession (50.7%-49.3%) and was more accurate in the passing department (89.9%-85.3%), winning more corners (7-3).
“We were more aggressive today. I thought we were pushing them,” Pareja said of his team’s performance against Montreal. “We were trying to force them into a mistake and that’s why the control of the game was coming to our side many times. They did a good job. They have good midfielders and they have a good model. And today we just matched up.”
“I know (the team is) not as connected as it can be. It’s just going to get better from here,” Michel said.
The Lions improved to 7-7-3 in the all-time series against Montreal and 3-4-2 at home.
The Lions hit the road for the first time in 2022 this Saturday as they travel to Chicago to take on the Fire.