On Sunday, Orlando City will visit Saputo Stadium as CF Montreal, Canada’s final MLS Cup contender this season, kicks off their playoff run.
While the Lions responded strongly on Decision Day at home against the Columbus Crew and came back to win, Montreal finished the regular season in second place in the Eastern Conference and are now on a six-match winning streak.
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It was evident early on in the 2022 Major League Soccer season that this Montreal club was not the same one that finished the regular season with one game remaining and missed the playoffs the previous year.
Wilfried Nancy, the manager, has overseen a team of players who have been relentless in attack during this 34-game season, scoring the second-most goals in the Eastern Conference.
Montreal came out strong on Decision Day away to Inter Miami in what was the 400th regular season game for this team since 1993, scoring three goals in the first half, the eighth time this season that they had accomplished that feat.
Montreal may have won more home games than any other MLS team this season, but they also put on some good performances away from home, earning three points on nine occasions and giving up a goal or fewer on 10 occasions.
In the past, this Orlando-Montreal matchup has featured a lot of quality play from both teams, averaging goals per game. The results have been fairly evenly distributed, with the Canadians winning eight games, Orlando winning seven, and three games ending in draws.
In four straight league games, they have opened the scoring, losing just three games in 2022 while doing so. Orlando City ended a two-game skid on Decision Day to move above the Crew for the last playoff place, saving a season that appeared to be crashing to the ground.
Oscar Pareja’s team had trailed at the half for only the second game this season, and the Colombian manager has now led this group to three consecutive postseason appearances.
Orlando has previously participated in three postseason games, but they have never been able to win one after a full 90 minutes.
In the truncated 2020 season, they only managed one postseason victory, defeating New York City FC on penalties following a draw in the game.
The Lions lost their lone postseason game away from home, to Nashville SC a year ago. They only managed to win five road games all season, the second-fewest of the seven Eastern Conference playoff teams.
With the Lions gaining 12 points this season courtesy to a late goal, they scored nine of their winning goals in 2022 in the second half.
While they won the U.S. Open Cup this year, earning their first trophy in franchise history, there was a decline in their attacking third play, as they only scored 44 goals, the fewest in a Lions’ 34-game season since 2019.
CF Montreal look to be the real deal, with skill in abundance and a level of consistency that few teams could equal over this campaign.
Orlando deserves a ton of credit for not giving up when everything seemed lost, but it is difficult to see them providing much of a challenge to a Montreal team that is overflowing with confidence and intense motivation due to the knowledge that at least one of its superstars won’t be returning next season.