Orlando City settles for 1-1 draw against Montreal

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Chris Mueller ended a monthslong scoring drought, but it wasn’t enough to pull the Lions ahead in a 1-1 draw to Montreal at Exploria Stadium.

The winger — nicknamed “Cash” for his previous hot scoring streaks for the Lions — hadn’t scored a goal since July 3. Those three months were defined by an injury and frustration for Mueller, who previously led the Lions in scoring with 10 goals in 2020.

The wait finally came to an end for Mueller on Wednesday, scrambling on a full-field transition run to keep his balance and smash in a backside cross from Ruan.

After the match, Mueller alluded to the negotiations surrounding his exit from Orlando City — which included signing a pre-contract with Hibernian in Scotland — as a source of distraction over the last three months.

“My situation with the club ... ultimately I think makes things a bit more difficult but I’ve just continued to push myself every day and continued to try and be positive and be happy where I can help the team,” Mueller said. “[It’s] been a tough process for me to handle everything that’s been going on, but it feels good to help the team where I can and just kind of get that monkey off my back. ... We just need to continue to work together as a team.”

Mueller reignited his scoring, but the Lions (12-8-10, 46 points) failed to hold off Montreal and extend their two-game winning streak.

The Lions held a firm grip in the first half. Montreal didn’t manage a single shot while Orlando City peppered thebox with chances, taking 8 shots and seeing 4 blocked. The Lions took 4 corner kicks in the opening 15 minutes, bearing down on Montreal in its own third.

Despite this elevated presence, Orlando City continued an infuriating pattern of missed opportunities. Daryl Dike waltzed past five defenders into the box only to scuff his ensuing shot, then sent a point-blank header screeching over the crossbar. Benji Michel and captain Luis Nani sent shots wide from the box.

Although Mueller’s goal came as a relief and reward for the winger, it stemmed from a full-field assault by the Lions that began with a pass from Robin Jansson from within the team’s own box.

The play reflected better build-up by the Lions in the first half, a key to their improvement after a midseason skid dropped them out of the second spot in the conference table. But the Lions couldn’t maintain that cohesiveness in the second half.

Montreal roared into play out of the locker room, forcing keeper Pedro Gallese to make point-blank highlight saves before Rudy Camacho finally punched in the equalizer.

“We needed to put the game away and put it far from them, but we could not score more than one goal,” Lions coach Oscar Pareja said. “That just left the game there for any opportunity that they had.”

The dropped points represented a critical missed opportunity for the Lions, who have just four regular-season games remaining.

Getting an upper hand on sixth-place Montreal (11-10-9, 42) was a key for the Lions to advance their playoff position. The teams will meet again Nov. 7 as both jockey among a crowded conference table.

A win could have lifted the Lions closer to second place; instead they’re tied with Philadelphia (12-8-10, 46) as both chase No. 2 Nashville (11-3-16, 49).

Striker Alexandre Pato made his first appearance since the season opener as an 82nd-minute substitute. The former Brazilian star had suffered a knee injury in that match, underwent surgery and then had a series of undisclosed knocks that sidelined him for the majority of the regular season.

“It’s positive to see him again competing,” Pareja said. “This is a stage where sometimes we need magical moments from players who have been in these situations before. ... It’s great to have him available and I know he is enjoying this week knowing he is part of the group again.”

Pato barely factored in as the Lions struggled to present an attacking threat in the dying minutes.

The Lions will complete a three-game week against top-ranked New England (21-4-6, 69) at home on Sunday.

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at jpoe@orlandosentinel.com.