ORLANDO, Fla. — Three games into the 2019 season, Orlando City finds itself in more or less the same place it was in at this time last year.
The Lions (0-1-2, 2 points) made a flurry of mistakes in their own half, and the Montreal Impact (2-0-1, 6 points) took advantage of every one of them to claim a 3-1 victory over Orlando City in front of an announced crowd of 22,352 at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday.
“I think, when you look at the way we started the game, the first 20, 30 seconds, I mean, you cannot start games like that,” Orlando City coach James O’Connor said. “If you are going to start the game like that, you need to have a stronger mentality. The big thing I just spoke about there is our mentality needs to be way stronger. I think, listen, to play for this football club, you need to have a strong mentality. That’s something that is really evident.
“But when you start a game like that and defend, honestly, the way we did, you make it practically impossible to give yourselves a chance of going and winning the game. You can’t defend like that and expect to get something out of the game.”
Orlando City had to overcome a blunder at the start of the match. The Lions turned the ball over on the opening kick and allowed Impact forward Maxi Urruti to get a shot off in the first minute. It was saved, but it set the tone for the rest of the game.
After a few minutes of solid play following the mistake – striker Dom Dwyer nearly scored the opening goal off a cross from Nani – things unraveled for the Lions.
Midfielder Saphir Taïder managed to get a cross to Impact forward Orji Okwonkwo, who took a touch and sent a shot to the far post that beat Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe in the 14th minute. Okwonkwo broke away from Orlando City centerback Carlos Ascues, who was getting his first start of the season.
The deficit got worse for Orlando City less than a minute later.
Lions centerback Shane O’Neill sent a weak back pass in the direction of Rowe, who came off his line to try to collect it. Instead, Urruti got there first and played the ball to Ignacio Piatti, who doubled Montreal’s advantage in the 15th minute of what turned into a chippy affair.
“There was a general nervousness to our play,” O’Connor said. “I think the start certainly didn’t help. We seemed to be edgy. We’ve gone a goal down and then I think within 90 seconds we’re 2-nil down again. It’s just… honestly, it’s not good enough. I think that’s something that we’ve spoken about throughout the preseason, throughout the first two games, we feel as if we’ve been able to set a standard and we were way off it. Today, we were nowhere near our level of what we want.”
It was the second consecutive home match during which Orlando City went into the break 2-0 down, and there were some boos ringing out from the supporters at Orlando City Stadium.
“If you put yourself in a situation like that where you’re 2-nil down, we did great against New York,” O’Connor said. “You know, there was a real toughness to the performance. There was a determination to go and get after the game but we lacked that today. As I say, we still had really good chance to try to get something from it.
“Overall, it’s just … our performance has come out of left field. I really didn’t see that coming.”
It was more of the same in the second half. Orlando City created chances – Dwyer had a one-on-one with Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush and sent his shot high – but couldn’t find the back of the net. The Lions struggled to put the ball on target, finishing with just two shots on target.
Montreal put 11 shots on target and forced Rowe into eight saves.
“To be fair, we had some decent chances,” said midfielder Sacha Kljestan. “I’d like to see us be a little bit better… of course when we have 1-v-1 opportunities, we got to put the ball on target. I think Dom would stand up and say that he could have been a little bit better today and more clinical, but also, when we get the ball to wide areas, our deliveries into the box haven’t been good enough. So I think that’s something that we can continue to work on and, hopefully, get better at.”
Dwyer took six shots and two were on target.
O’Connor tried to get more firepower on the field with about 20 minutes left in the match, subbing on young attackers Josué Colmán and Santiago Patiño in the 74th minute. Left back Danilo Acosta and O’Neill came off for the two attackers, leaving midfielder Sebas Méndez and right back Ruan as de-facto centerbacks.
Montreal put the match away a few minutes later. Kljestan tried to clear the ball, but instead it bounced off the Impact’s Harry Novillo, off Kljestan and back to Novillo, who played the ball to Piatti.
Piatti got his second goal and put the match out of reach in the 80th minute.
Orlando City got a consolation goal in the first minute of second half stoppage time. Patiño set up Dwyer, who gave the Lions a goal late.
Saturday’s match was also the second in a row during which O’Connor had to use an early sub. Midfielder Will Johnson went down in the fifth minute and looked like he was ready to continue playing, but he went to the locker room in the 17th minute and was evaluated for a concussion. Cristian Higuita replaced the veteran midfielder.
Montreal’s Zakaria Diallo was sent off in the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time for violent conduct during a scuffle between the two sides.