The abrupt firing of Jason Kreis Friday afternoon has left Orlando City once again searching for a new head coach. In the meantime, the Lions will be led by the team’s assistant, Bobby Murphy. While most people are focused on who the club’s third head coach will be, let’s take a look at the man who will take over in the interim.
Most Orlando City fans became aware of Bobby Murphy when he was hired to join Adrian Heath’s coaching staff prior to the 2016 MLS season. However, Murphy’s connection with the club goes back much further than that.
After going to school and beginning his coaching career in the northeast, Murphy moved to Texas to become director of the South Texas Youth Soccer Association. In 2003, he became the director at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, a large residential academy in the area.
Following the 2007 PDL season, the Austin Lightning ceased operations. A new team in the league, the Austin Stampede, was set to launch in 2008 but was bought by Phil Rawlins and renamed Austin Aztex U-23. It became the youth side of the new professional USL team, the Austin Aztex. Adrian Heath was to coach the Aztex and he called on a familiar name in Austin soccer, Murphy, to assist.
In 2010, citing low investment and facilities, Rawlins moved to Orlando, where he launched Orlando City. While Heath made the move to become the coach of the new team, Murphy remained in Austin to continue his work at St. Stephen’s.
After 13 years in charge of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Academy, Murphy left Austin in January of 2016 and rejoined Rawlins and Heath, becoming an assistant coach for the MLS team and technical coordinator of the club’s academy.
It didn’t take long for Murphy to gain added responsibilities. On July 6, 2016, Heath was relieved of his duties, as was fellow assistant Mark Watson. That left the club with just Murphy and goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr to lead the team for the coming games, with some help from then-OCB coach Anthony Pulis.
While the club finalized its new head coach, which eventually was Real Salt Lake and New York City FC coach Jason Kreis, Murphy took charge as interim head coach. He would control the sidelines for a total of 13 days before Kreis was announced.
Murphy took over following Heath’s firing coming off an embarrassing 4-0 Monday night loss to FC Dallas. His first match was a scoreless draw against Houston just four days later. The following Wednesday, the Lions traveled to New York where they lost 2-0 to the New York Red Bulls.
Murphy’s final official game in charge — as far as MLS is concerned — came on July 16 when the Lions traveled to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps. Murphy’s experienced the first goal scored by his team. The 2-2 draw included a 14th- minute goal by Júlio Baptista and a 50th-minute goal by striker Cyle Larin. Even though Kreis was hired before Orlando’s next MLS match, the new skipper did not take over match preparations or coach on the sidelines, and Murphy led the team to a 2-2 draw against the Crew in Columbus. The team fought back from a 2-0 deficit in that match, with Kevin Molino and Larin supplying the goals.
Murphy’s winless time in charge of the Lions (0-1-3) included three out of four games away from home. Though MLS officially lists his record as 0-1-2 and gives the Columbus draw to Kreis, it was firmly Murphy’s match.
In 2016, Kreis was hired just 13 days after Heath’s ousting, keeping the team without a permanent coach for a short amount of time. This was likely because Kreis was one of the club’s top choices, making the hiring of the coach a rather quick and smooth one. It’s unknown who the next coach of the Lions will be, or how quickly they will be able to make such a hire, so Murphy’s time in charge in his second stint is also unknown.
Orlando City currently sits in a very similar situation to when Murphy took over in 2016. At the time of Heath’s firing, the Lions had acquired 20 points in 16 games, sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They were equal on points with Toronto FC, but lost the first tiebreaker of wins. Currently, the Lions sit in the sixth and final playoff position with 19 points in 15 games, a slightly better points-per-game average. While they’re tied with the Chicago Fire on points, this time they have the advantage of having won one more game in hand than the Fire.
Regardless of how long Murphy is in charge, it won’t be an easy task. His first game in charge will come with the difficult decision of team selection when the Lions face D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. It will be on Murphy to decide how seriously to take the tournament that provides perhaps the club’s only opportunity at a trophy. Three days later the league will continue when Orlando City faces a Montreal Impact team that beat it 3-0 last Wednesday night. Assuming a new head coach has not been found, the following two games will be on the road against the current Supporters’ Shield leading Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC, which currently sits in third in the Western Conference.
Starting this week, Bobby Murphy will take charge for the second time following the firing of an Orlando City head coach. It’s unknown how long he’ll be in charge, as it depends on the length of the club’s search for a new boss. This won’t be the first time Murphy has been in charge during a transition, but this will most certainly be his toughest challenge as a coach as the Lions look to break a six-game losing streak and stay above the red line.