And we’re moving on.
The Lions continued their MLS is Back Tournament run on Saturday night with a 1-0 shutout victory over the Montreal Impact.
Throughout the entirety of the match, City displayed full control with a dominant first half performance that saw numerous chances for the Lions, including a goal that was called back for offsides from midfielder Sebastián Méndez.
After a strong first 45, the breakthrough finally came in the 60th minute off the foot of Tesho Akindele, who passed a deflection from Impact goalkeeper Clément Diop into the back of the net for the eventual game-winner.
In previous years, a one-goal lead was something that would cause City fans some level of anxiety, and understandably so. However, Saturday’s match felt different.
Despite just the one-goal advantage, the Lions continued their push forward while remaining stalwart in the back. The Impact truly never threatened in the match, with goalkeeper Pedro Gallese only having to make one save to secure the second shutout of his tenure and Orlando City’s spot in the Quarterfinals.
“That was really important for us and I think that over the past few games we’ve shown that we have done a good job of doing that. We’ve had the lead and we’ve held onto the lead a few times in a row,’ forward Tesho Akindele said.
“It just shows a strong mentality, it shows good organization from the team and it just shows dedication to the cause from the front to the back. It starts with the forwards, to the midfielders, to the defenders, the goalie, everybody is bought in and focused in those last few minutes, which is something we might have been missing last year and we have it right now.”
In those critical final minutes, Head Coach Oscar Pareja called on two of his youngest players in rookies Daryl Dike and Joey DeZart, the match serving as the MLS debut for the Lions’ two 2020 MLS SuperDraft picks. No pressure or anything.
Dike came into the match in the 75th minute for Akindele, while DeZart entered the pitch in the 83rd for Méndez, replacing two of the Lions’ most threatening presences in the contest and showcasing the level of trust that Pareja has in his young talent, something he has been known for throughout his entire coaching career.
“It’s going to make them grow a lot, the circumstances of the tournament not just debuting in any game, they’re debuting in a game that needed personality, that needs their presence in the game to seal it, to get into spaces and obviously to get the win. It’s a responsibility that they absorbed well and we are very proud,’ Pareja said of the debuts of his two draft picks.
“The boys are prepared, we’re going to give the opportunity to all, but they are earning that opportunity. It’s not given to them, they are earning it so this was a good demonstration of they were the ones who needed to do that job and they came out very sharp and did a great job.”
Locking up a spot in the Quarterfinals has been a team effort from top to bottom throughout the entirety of the competition and the Lions will need a similar effort come Friday night against 2019 MLS Supporters' Shield winners LAFC.
If we’ve learned anything from this group thus far, however, it’s that they will be prepared for any challenge that may come their way.