Orlando City SC head coach Oscar Pareja is expecting a “very intense” battle with CF Montreal as two Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls face off at Exploria Stadium.
The Lions head into Wednesday’s contest sitting fourth in the division after winning back-to-back matches, four points better off than Montreal in the final playoff spot.
Montreal struck late on to rescue a 2-2 draw against Philadelphia Union last time out and Pareja is fully aware of the magnitude of this midweek battle in Florida.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to keep getting close to our first objective (of making the playoffs),” he said.
“Montreal come into the game after getting points as well and surely it’s going to be a very intense game for both teams.
“The frequency of the games is a factor that we all have at this moment with the proximity of the games, but also there is a time where you have to go for what you need.
“We’ve played them already here, had a very difficult game where we had a red card and they took advantage of that. Now we’re hoping for a different outcome.”
Since that 4-2 victory for Montreal in their most recent trip to Orlando in September, the Canadian side have won two, lost two and drawn one.
That inconsistent form leaves Wilfried Nancy’s men with only a one-point buffer on the chasing pack as the race for a postseason spot heats up.
Given the circumstances of the late point against the Union, Nancy was unsurprisingly upbeat ahead of Wednesday’s contest.
“I’m not surprised by the equalizer we scored,” he said. “My teams have always been resilient. It’s something I demand from everybody until the final minute.”
Montreal announced on the eve of the game that they have exercised the right to sign Ahmed Hamdi from Egyptian side El Gouna FC on a permanent basis.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Orlando City SC – Junior Urso
Urso’s goal proved the difference in Orlando’s win against Cincinnati, the Brazilian midfielder netting his third game-winning strike of the campaign. With Nani on his longest goalless drought for the club, the Lions could do with some other unlikely heroes stepping up at the business end of proceedings.
CF Montreal – Djordje Mihailovic
Mihailovic set up Matko Miljevic’s opener against the Union and now has 14 assists for the season, ranking him second behind Carles Gil in that metric among all MLS players. The marque off-season signing also has four goals to his name this campaign, making him one of the best value-for-money signings this year.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Montreal are unbeaten in five straight visits to Orlando (W4 D1), including wins in each of their last three visits. The three consecutive wins in Orlando is the first time Montreal have won three straight away matches against a single opponent in the club’s MLS history.
– Orlando have recorded back-to-back wins after winning just two of their previous 11 games (D5 L4). This is Orlando’s first winning streak since their only three-match run this season, in May-June.
– Ibrahim Sunusi’s match-tying goal at 94:30 against the Union on Saturday was the second time this season Montreal have scored a result-changing goal in the 95th minute or later after Victor Wanyama’s winning penalty at 97:33 against New York Red Bulls on August 14.
– Nani has failed to score in his last nine MLS appearances, equaling the longest such streak of his career (June-August 2019). Nani has just one goal contribution in those nine games (one assist) after contributing to 15 goals (nine goals, six assists) in his first 15 matches this season.
– Djordje Mihailovic set up CF Montreal’s first goal against Philadelphia, a Milijevic strike. It was the third straight game Mihailovic has recorded an assist and no Montreal player has ever recorded an assist in four consecutive matches.