Orlando City’s inability to finish chances haunted the team throughout the entire month of May.
To start off June, the Lions, facing a team that embarrassed them in Orlando City Stadium earlier this year, bucked the trend. The team’s best chances against the Montreal Impact didn’t go begging and coach James O’Connor watched his team earn a positive result before a three-week break from league play.
The Lions (5-7-3, 18 points) struck first, second and third and buried the Impact 3-0 at Stade Saputo in Montreal. Orlando City had no trouble putting away its chances Saturday evening despite playing without star striker Dom Dwyer, who was sidelined due to a hamstring injury that he suffered in the team’s final training session before leaving for Montreal.
“I think, for us, it’s not necessarily a surprise,” O’Connor said about the Lions play on Saturday. “I think our performances levels have been worthy of more points, so we’re just very pleased the players have been able to get the reward that we feel the performances have deserved.”
He added, “It’s a massive win, I think, for the players and the supporters. I think, obviously, when you can see performance levels when you’re dominating the game, you’re having lots of possession and you’re having a lot of chance creation, it can become frustrating. The mentality of the group to stay tough and really keep believing I thought was very, very good today.”
Orlando City did all of its damage during the first 45 minutes.
The Lions opened the scoring after a hand ball in the penalty area by Zakaria Diallo gave Orlando City a penalty kick. Diallo was behind Lions centerback Lamine Sané during a set piece and he put his hand in the air while trying to win a header.
Nani – who missed a penalty kick during a disappointing loss to the LA Galaxy – stepped up and beat Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush to give City the 1-0 lead in the 27th minute.
Nani leads Orlando City with eight goals. The goal was his 100th professional goal.
Forward Tesho Akindele, who was starting in place of Dwyer, doubled Orlando City’s advantage in the 36th minute. Midfielder Cristian Higuita stole the ball from Impact midfielder Omar Browne and started the break for Orlando City. He played the ball to Chris Mueller on the left side and Mueller sent in a cross for Akindele, who provided the clinical finish for his fifth goal of the season.
Orlando City’s third goal of the half might just have been the club’s best goal of the year. Or, at least, it was one of its best examples of The Beautiful Game the Lions have put together under O’Connor. It started with Akindele forcing a turnover. After that, the Lions strung together 22 passes, many of them with one touch, before the ball collided with a Montreal Impact player.
It was hit by Bush, who batted away a cross from João Moutinho. The ball fall to midfielder Will Johnson, who leaned forward to head it into the back of the net and gave the Lions a 3-0 lead in the first half. It was Johnson’s first goal of the season.
“The quality and the level of performance that the players have been putting in, we feel as if they haven’t got the reward,” O’Connor said. “To finally go and show the quality that they have and put on a performance and get a goal like that is very pleasing and just a reward for the players, because they’ve worked extremely hard.”
The Impact never really threatened the Lions much. The home side controlled possession and took nine shots, but only one of them was on target. Montreal’s best effort was a good look from midfielder Saphir Taïder, but it was saved by Brian Rowe to preserve the clean sheet for Orlando City. The match was the Lions’ third shutout of the year.
“I thought the discipline that we showed was very, very good. I mean, it was a lot of compactness and there was good understanding of roles and responsibilities. The execution today was very, very good. I think, obviously, people will talk a lot about the third goal,” O’Connor said. “Obviously, it was a quality goal, the number of passes and great movement, but I think defensively, people need to understand just how good the defensive performance, as well.”
Orlando City gets a break from league play until June 26, when the Lions face D.C. United on the road. Orlando City begins U.S. Open Cup play on June 12 with a fourth-round match against Memphis 901 FC.