Orlando City is a difficult team to beat on opening day but, entering yesterday, the Lions also typically don’t find a way to win their first game, either. That looked to be the case again after a scoreless first half that didn’t produce many big moments from the hosts or visiting CF Montreal. But Alexandre Pato and Benji Michel scored 10 minutes apart to give Orlando control en route to the 2-0 win.
Here is what I took away from the first match of Orlando City’s 2022 season.
You’ll Get Nothing and Like It!
Orlando opponents have not scored a goal on opening day since Oscar Pareja took over. The Lions earned back-to-back scoreless draws in the season opener against Real Salt Lake (2020) and Atlanta United (2021) before Montreal came to town Sunday. The visitors had only a couple of decent looks at goal all day as the defense and the trio of central midfielders — Cesar Araujo, Andres Perea, and substitute Junior Urso — spent most of the match keeping the visiting attack toothless and anything that got through them was dealt with by the back line.
The Lions allowed eight total shot attempts. Orlando blocked three of them and Pedro Gallese only had to make two saves — both were shots from the top of the area or further out. Just two Montreal shots came from inside the area. One was blocked by Moutinho early in the second half and the other came from a severe angle by Romell Quioto from left of goal. Montreal’s expected goals (xG) total for the game was just 0.5.
You don’t score on Pareja’s Lions in the season opener in Exploria Stadium.
The Importance of Pato
Pato was named the club’s Man of the Match for his performance and it was deserving. He was easily the best attacking player on the pitch for either side, making smart runs, drawing defenders out of position, laying passes off for teammates in better situations, and, of course, scoring his first MLS goal. Pato finished with three shots and two on target to lead Orlando in both categories, and he also led in key passes (2). His 73.3% passing rate doesn’t sound great but he attempted many of those in the final third and he completed his only long ball attempt. Pato showed his intelligence with a smart play in the defensive half late in the game, heading a ball back to Gallese from distance to take pressure off and restart the possession. He also chipped in a pair of clearances. It was a good overall game for the Brazilian, who can truly shine with Orlando if he stays healthy in 2022.
Urso’s Introduction Changed the Game
Perea is a good young midfielder who continues to seek out the right positions on the field and he looks to have a bright future. But several plays throughout the first half broke down when he made questionable decisions or poor passes in the attack, or he was dispossessed in buildup play. Pareja withdrew the young midfielder at halftime and sent Urso into the match. The Brazilian made an impact early and often. His anticipation led to the play that resulted in the second Orlando goal and he did well to hold the ball up and draw fouls from the opposition to maintain possession throughout the second 45 minutes. Hopefully Perea can learn some of the Bear’s tricks, so he can take the next step in his development.
Antonio Carlos Doesn’t Need Preseason
If Pato wasn’t the best player on the field Sunday afternoon, then it was probably Orlando center back Antonio Carlos. The Brazilian was a monster after missing most of the preseason due to visa issues and went the full 90. AC finished the game with a whopping nine clearances to go along with two tackles and an interception. He held Romell Quioto in check, frustrating and aggravating the Honduran international into eventually getting sent off. He also made some nifty moves when playing out of the back to break the first line of Montreal’s press. He completed 93% of his passes and four of his five long ball attempts. It was a big day for AC.
New Kids on the Block Won’t Sit
Pareja wasted no time getting his new players on the pitch. Facu Torres was an obvious starter since the day the team signed him, but U22 Initiative midfielder Cesar Araujo starting ahead of Sebas Mendez raised a few eyebrows. Ercan Kara started the game on the bench after missing a good chunk of preseason with a sprained ankle. It was nice that he could make his MLS debut in the 69th minute, although the game was basically decided by then and things got a bit chaotic after Robin Jansson was sent off, leaving each team a man down. Torres and Araujo were involved all game long and look to be settling into the side. Kara made a sick play with his first touch, back-heeling a long aerial pass perfectly into the path of a midfield teammate. The new guys can play and it looks like they are going to see the field a lot.
That’s what stood out to me in the Lions’ season-opening win over Montreal. Let me know what caught your eye in the comments section below.