Orlando City survived and advanced in the U.S. Open Cup after a lightning-delayed, rain-soaked night in Boyds, MD, at the Maryland SoccerPlex. A nervy 120 minutes in the round of 16 ended in a 1-1 draw and a place in the quarterfinals went to the coin flip of penalty kicks, which the Lions grabbed decisively, 4-2.
What did we learn from the first night of the second Bobby Murphy era?
New Shape Mostly Effective
In four previous matches in charge of Orlando City, Murphy trotted out a 4-2-3-1 – a familiar shape the club has used most of this season. No matter. Murphy went with a 3-4-3, opting to use the team’s three top center backs across the back line; two fullbacks, a defensive midfielder, and an attacking midfielder in the middle; and two wings and forward Stefano Pinho up at the top of the formation. D.C. coach Ben Olsen said after the game that it was a change that United didn’t expect. For the most part, the experiment was a success. The three central defenders provided cover on a night when the wingbacks were a bit sloppy (more on that below) and when the midfield was a bit outnumbered.
Murphy’s lineup was full of delightful surprises, starting with a missing starter’s return. Lamine Sané hadn’t played since May 18 at Toronto but there was no easing him back into the lineup. Murphy isn’t coddling anyone. He put the French-Senegalese defender right into the starting lineup on a rainy night that ended up lasting more than 120 minutes. Speaking of missing starters, Scott Sutter didn’t play, but he did make the 18. Again, Murphy isn’t coddling anyone. Oh, you can play? Get in there!
While most of Murphy’s starters were regulars, there were exceptions in goal, where Earl Edwards Jr. was deployed, and up top, where Pinho replaced Dom Dwyer, who was rested in this match. It will be interesting to see how the team lines up on Saturday, particularly after riding defenders Sané, Amro Tarek, and Jonathan Spector, and midfielders Justin Meram, Sacha Kljestan, and Chris Mueller for 120 minutes on a heavy pitch.
Lions Continue Wasteful Ways
Orlando City peppered the D.C. goal with 21 shot attempts, but only three were on target. This continues a worrying trend of poor finishing from the Lions, who had ample opportunities to put the game away with several good looks. Pinho sent a shot badly wide in the 19th minute after Sacha Kljestan threaded a gorgeous through-ball to him that covered about 30 yards. Justin Meram and Kljestan fired over the bar on decent looks from just outside the area in the 53rd and 61st minutes, respectively. Pinho’s free header went just wide in the 69th minute and RJ Allen’s effort missed by even less two minutes later. Through normal time, only one shot was on frame and that was Meram’s shot right at Steve Clark, who let it slip through his grasp for Orlando’s only goal.
In extra time, Mueller got a high, arcing header on frame but Clark scrambled back to catch it. Colmán missed an empty net — albeit from a tight angle — in the 99th minute. Will Johnson missed the net two minutes later from inside the area. At least Colmán forced a good save from Clark in the 105th, but Johnson’s header was off frame in the 107th and Colmán fired over the bar in the 120th.
This lack of accuracy simply isn’t good enough and we’ve already seen it cost the Lions multiple games over the past month.
Lions Locked in During PKs
On the other hand, Orlando was locked in when the match went to penalties. Four of Orlando’s five shooters found the net and the only one who didn’t — Jose Villareal — fired his shot on target but Clark guessed correctly and the height was comfortable for him to make the save while diving to his right. If the Lions can translate the accuracy from the penalty shootout into the run of play, this will be a much better offense. Sure, there is less to worry about in terms of defenders and angles when it comes to penalties, but the key with the shootout was composure. Showing some in the run of play would allow the team to return to the win column on a regular basis.
Mohamed El-Munir and RJ Allen should have been in a great position to contribute offensively in the 4-3-4. With more defender coverage behind them than usual, they were free to roam up the pitch and get involved, but things didn’t go as well as they should have. Below is their passing chart from the match.
As you can see, the passing accuracy in the final third was a mess. Mo failed to produce one accurate cross, while Allen had one, which created a chance. El-Munir had very few completed positive passes — just a few square balls and mainly back passes. Allen had several cross attempts blocked, but at least he had more success linking up with Kljestan and Mueller on his side.
El-Munir also made a ton of defensive miscues in the match and was lucky not to be sent off in the 116th minute, when he lost the ball and grabbed a D.C. player, before angrily kicking the ball at him. This could easily have been two yellows instead of one, though it may not have played a role in the outcome so close to the end.
If Orlando is going to play this shape again, the Lions will need to be sharper on the wings.
The Landlord Knows Penalties
Earl Edwards Jr. came up huge on the first D.C. United penalty kick, denying Yamil Asad’s attempt after Will Johnson had put the Lions ahead in the shootout. It was a big momentum builder for Orlando, which scored on its first three attempts.
We first saw Earl save a penalty back on May 2, 2015, when he did it in a 3-2 friendly victory over Brazilian side Ponte Preta. That night, Edwards denied Biro Biro’s spot kick in the first half to keep the Lions just a goal down at the time, allowing his team to rally. That was nothing compared to what he did on June 17 of that inaugural MLS season, when he made three saves in a 10-round penalty shootout at Charleston that allowed Orlando City to advance past the Battery and into the fifth round. That night, he stopped Taylor Mueller, Dante Marini, and Zach Prince from the spot and City eventually won the shootout, 8-7, after a 4-4 draw in the U.S. Open Cup’s fourth round.
Last year, he stopped a penalty against Ottawa’s Gerardo Bruna in a nine-save effort for Orlando City B in a 3-0 home win. He also denied former USL Lion Aodhan Quinn from the spot in a 2-2 draw at FC Cincinnati last August.
The takeaway here is this: If you have to face penalty kicks, leave it up to “The Landlord” to evict those shots.
That’s what I saw in Orlando’s rain-drenched effort last night. What stood out to you?