That was fun!
Orlando City opened its 2022 Major League Soccer season in triumphant fashion, earning all three points with a 2-0 home victory over CF Montreal. Alexandre Pato scored his first MLS goal and homegrown winger Benji Michel added a second soon after to give Orlando a commanding lead. A strong defensive effort prevented any threat of a Montreal comeback down the stretch.
The Lions started this game about as poorly as a team can without actually conceding a goal. Montreal's pressure prevented Orlando from really getting on the ball and some shaky touches and passes kept Orlando deep in its own half. Honduran striker Romell Quioto was constantly looking to get in behind the Lions' backline, occasionally striking fear into the defense. Despite some quality half chances on the break, especially from Djordje Mihailovic through balls, Montreal couldn't break through.
After the early pressure, Orlando found its feet and started to really use the ball. The possession was much better down the stretch in the first half and kept the majority of the game in Montreal's half of the field. There were some decent half-chances, but the Lions were unable to create many clear-cut opportunities in front of goal.
Then the second half came and things got really interesting. A halftime substitute of Junior Urso brought much needed dynamism and energy to central midfield and the Lions got more direct. A beautiful sequence of passing and possession culminated in a wonderfully worked team goal for Alexandre Pato. The play from the three Uruguayans -- Mauricio Pereyra, Facundo Torres and César Araújo -- was particularly impressive, as was Ruan's pace to get past the center back and to the touchline. Seeing Pato's reaction after scoring, you could see how much that moment meant to the Brazilian.
For the next ten minutes, Orlando pressed Montreal out of the game. From every goal kick, the pressure was relentless, and the tired visitors couldn't find a way through. The pressure created a few chances, before finally the ball found Pereyra who slipped it to a wide-open Benji Michel for the second.
The rest of the match was largely defined by volatility. Quioto, who was involved in a scuffle before halftime, got into it with Orlando's center backs, pushing Robin Jansson and getting himself a straight red card. In total, eight cards were shown in the second half. Jansson got a yellow in the Quioto scuffle, and then got sent off as well for a tactical foul late in the match. That marred an otherwise impressive outing for the Swede. It was a contentious and physical ending to a well played match.
The Lions came away with three points, a clean sheet and what looked like no injuries. Aside from the Jansson red card, it was a dream start to a season and one of the best season openers in Orlando's history. Some of the play in the second half was truly spectacular and showed glimpses of the team we saw at the MLS is Back Tournament in 2020. If we see more of that, this spectacular start could lead to an even more spectacular season.