A second-half golazo from Jhegson Mendez and a late insurance tally from Daryl Dike powered Orlando City SC into the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs with a 2-0 Decision Day victory over 10-man CF Montréal at Stade Saputo on Sunday evening.
Orlando have clinched the Eastern Conference's No. 6 seed and will now face No. 3-seeded Nashville SC in Round One of the playoffs.
Needing a win to keep their postseason hopes alive, Montréal could never find an equalizer after Mendez's highlight-reel strike in the 55th minute and a late red card to defender Rudy Camacho forced Wilfried Nancy's group to finish down a man.
Orlando fired the first warning shot in the 12th minute off a free kick from just outside the area off Mauricio Pereyra's foot. The attempt was on target and looked bound for goal, but it was denied at the last second by a full-extension save from CF Montréal goalkeeper Sebastian Breza.
Montréal had two separate opportunities to open the scoring shortly after, first in the 16th minute off a close-range effort from Sunusi Ibrahim that the forward put right at Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese. Joaquín Torres then had a golden opportunity five minutes later after springing open behind the Orlando backline, only to see his open shot from just inside the area denied by Gallese again.
The Lions finally found their breakthrough in the 55th minute in spectacular fashion. Mendez did the honors after a long throw-in was cleared to his feet, allowing the Ecuadorian midfielder to go top corner with a gorgeous curling strike that gave no chance to a diving Breza.
Controversy then struck on the hour mark, when Montréal's Romell Quioto headed home a finish off a cross from Samuel Piette, appearing to give the hosts the leveling goal. But Quioto was ruled offside and the goal was waved off despite the adamant protests of the Montréal players.
Montréal's hopes were all but extinguished as the match approached the 80th minute when Camacho was given a straight red card for a challenge on Dike, putting the hosts down a man. That set the stage for Dike to put the game to bed, with an 86th-minute insurance goal that rounded off the 2-0 final.
- THE BIG PICTURE: It hasn't always been a consistent season for Orlando, but credit to the Lions for a big-time performance in a tough environment to eradicate any doubt regarding their postseason aspirations. The Lions will now set their sights on making a run in the Eastern Conference. It's a heartbreaking way to see it end for CF Montréal, who were in the playoff mix for much of the season, only to see it slip away on Decision Day. They can take pride in a season that saw them largely outperform expectations, but the sting from missing out on such a razor-thin margin is likely to linger into the offseason.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: The sides were going back-and-forth with no breakthrough until this incredible strike from Mendez gave Orlando a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Montréal could have opened the scoring several times in the first half if not for the heroics of Orlando backstop Pedro Gallese, who put in a massive shift in helping his side maintain the clean sheet.
- MTL: End of season
- ORL: Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs, Round One at Nashville SC