Orlando City prevails in Montreal to earn playoff berth

For the Lions heading into the weekend’s crucial Decision Day matchup at Montreal, the task was simple: a win would guarantee them a spot in the 2021 MLS Cup playoffs.

On Sunday, Orlando City’s best-case scenario came to fruition as a rocket from Sebastian Mendez and a finisher from Daryl Dike were enough to ensure the Lions a 2-0 victory over CF Montreal at Stade Saputo to send Oscar Pareja’s group back to the MLS Cup playoffs for the second consecutive year.

“Very difficult match with urgency today,” said Pareja following the game. “There was no tomorrow. It must be done today here in Montreal after what happened against Nashville at home that it was very difficult to absorb, but the players showed a lot of character. I like our game. I thought we were very smart today [to] try to neutralize them and just take our moments, special moments, to find the game.”

Mendez scored his first goal of the season in the 55th minute before Dike scored his 10th goal of the season in the final minutes to secure Orlando a second consecutive playoff berth.

It was the first time this year Orlando defeated Montreal after previously drawing and losing against the Canadian side.

The Lions almost opened the scoring in the 12th minute when a free kick taken by Mauricio Pereyra was denied by Montreal goalkeeper Sebastian Breza.

In the 21st minute, Pedro Gallese denied a chance from close by Joaquin Torres to prevent the home team from taking the lead.

The back-and-forth affair continued in the 37th minute when an indirect free kick saw Pereyra roll and position the ball for Robin Jansson, who hit a long-range shot off the post.

Orlando (13-9-12, 51 points) eventually opened the scoring in the 55th minute when a failed clearance from Montreal found Mendez, who blasted a curling shot past Breza.

In the 59th minute, a centered ball connected with Romell Quioto, who headed the ball past Gallese. But the play was called back for offside after confirmation from the video assistant referee.

Montreal was reduced to 10 players when a studs-up challenge from Rudy Camacho on Dike saw the defender get issued a straight red card by referee Armado Villareal in the 79th minute.

Moments later, a threaded pass from Ruan opened Dike to make a run at goal before striking the ball into the net to double Orlando’s lead in the 86th minute.

“We had it in our own hands before and we clinched the playoff by ourselves,” said defender Robin Jansson. “So that was our goal, and we made it today. And then we traveled here to Canada and got three points in a very important game and a tough game, so I’m very happy and excited about the guys.”

Chris Mueller did not feature in Sunday’s lineup due to a knock he suffered earlier in the week during training, a club official confirmed.

Nani, who did not train fully and felt some discomfort during the week, did not play but was named as a substitute on Sunday.

The outcome marked Orlando’s seventh shutout victory this season as it finished sixth in the Eastern Conference standings.

Up next, Orlando will travel to take on Nashville SC in the first round of the playoffs. Major League Soccer will announce the full schedule at a later date, but games are slated to begin on Nov. 20.