Preview: Orlando City vs. CF Montreal – prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Sunday’s Major League Soccer clash between Orlando City and CF Montreal, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

For the second time in three years, Orlando City and CF Montreal will open their Major League Soccer (MLS) regular seasons by facing each other at Exploria Stadium on Saturday.

The Lions were knocked out of the Eastern Conference semi-finals last season, losing 2-0 in extra time versus the Columbus Crew, the same team that ended the playoff hopes of Montreal last season, beating them 2-1 on Decision Day.

Match preview

Orlando City SC midfielder Wilder Cartagena celebrates on November 3, 2023© Reuters

There is plenty of optimism in the Magical Kingdom of Orlando these days for understandable reasons after the Lions finished the 2023 regular season with 63 points, a 15-point improvement from the previous campaign.

Last season was a banner year for the Lions in many respects, setting a new MLS club record for points, wins (18) and goals scored (55).

Finishing second in the Eastern Conference was the highest they had ever been at the end of an MLS regular season, and their bar is now as high as it has ever been since entering the league.

Those achievements helped Oscar Pareja earn a contract extension, and the Colombian has never missed the playoffs since taking over as manager ahead of the 2020 campaign.

His approach of absorbing pressure and hitting the opposition on the counter suits this team well, as it brings stability to this squad on both ends, with Orlando finishing in the top six for goals scored and top four regarding goals conceded a season ago.

Most of the players from a season ago are back, and there is no reason to believe this team cannot contend for the Eastern Conference title in 2023.

CF Montreal celebrate after the win on June 21, 2023© Reuters

After narrowly missing the playoffs for a second time in three years, Montreal have turned to a new coach with a similar tactical approach to their 2022 manager.

Laurent Courtois coached the Columbus Crew 2 side last season and is expected to bring in a virtually identical brand of football that this side enjoyed under Wilfried Nancy in 2022, disorganising the opposition with patience and switching the point of attack.

Courtois will likely have a very different tactical approach to his predecessor Hernan Losada, who played with verticality, though adjusting to Courtois may not be as steep a learning curve, seeing as many of those who played under Nancy in 2022 are still around.

Montreal have lost their opening regular season encounter in back-to-back campaigns, losing six of their first seven fixtures a year ago and failing to score in each of those defeats.

Under Losada, they won just two regular season road fixtures while claiming points in only four domestic outings away from home after winning more away contests than anyone in MLS the season before that (11 in 2022).

In this competition, they are winless in their last three visits to Exploria Stadium, failing to net in their previous two regular season affairs played there and losing their season opener versus the Lions in 2022 (2-0).

Orlando City Pre-season form:

Orlando City form (all competitions):

CF Montreal Pre-season form:

Team News

Orlando City SC head coach Oscar Pareja on September 3, 2023© Reuters

Favian Loyola might not be available for Orlando City after getting surgery on his left arm, while Jack Lynn is questionable due to a left thigh injury and Rodrigo Schlegel will miss this match through suspension.

The club added David Brekalo, who is expected to slot in alongside Robin Jansson at centre-back, while also signing two-time MLS Cup champion Nicolas Lodeiro from the Seattle Sounders and bringing in Luis Muriel, a Designated Player (DP) from Atalanta BC in the Italian Serie A.

Orlando declined an option on Junior Urso, who is now a member of Charlotte FC, while mutually parting ways with Mauricio Pereyra, who is back in Uruguay at Nacional, and Antonio Carlos is with the reigning Copa Libertadores champions Fluminense.

Lassi Lappalainen and Robert Thorkelsson might both be unavailable for Montreal in this opening match because of groin injuries.

Their biggest off-season signing was Josef Martinez, the 2018 MLS Golden Boot winner, who comes over from Inter Miami, while they also added former Orlando right-back Ruan, along with Canadian full-back Raheem Edwards, plus Matias Coccaro and Dominik Yankov, an established Bulgarian international.

Meanwhile, the club said goodbye to Romell Quioto, who rarely saw the field last season due to recurring injuries, while Aaron Herrera moved to DC United, and they declined the options on Zachary Brault-Guillard and James Pantemis, with the latter now a member of the Portland Timbers.

Orlando City possible starting lineup:
Gallese; Thorhallsson, Brekalo, Jansson, Santos; Araujo, Cartagena; Torres, Ojeda, Lodeiro; McGuire

CF Montreal possible starting lineup:
Sirois; Campbell, Waterman, Corbo; Ruan, Piette, Choiniere, Edwards; Yankov; Opoku, Martinez

SM words green background

We say: Orlando City 1-0 CF Montreal

The Lions have not lost their opening fixture in this competition since 2021, and their team chemistry should allow them to settle into this match quicker than Le CFM.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

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