Earl Edwards Jr. of Orlando City SC makes a save during the club’s 2018 US Open Cup match against DC United. Photo: USA Today Sports Images
It has been a tough week for Orlando City SC. Losing their manager last week and facing a fresh stream of rumors and theories about their future the Purple Lions supporters were looking for something, anything to feel positive about. On Wednesday night at a rain-soaked Maryland SoccerPlex they seemed to have found it. Thanks to some goalkeeping wizardry by Earl Edwards Jr., and some luck in penalties, Orlando defeated D.C. United to move on to the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
For Orlando, it will be the club’s third trip to the Quarterfinals and the first since 2015.
“Cup games are always hard because it’s like a mini final and you have to play to a winner,” Lions interim head coach Bobby Murphy said. “With our guys, the change of the shape, the weather delay – there was just a lot thrown at us tonight. I thought the guys coped with it really well, even the patches in the game where we were up against it and they were on top of us. We didn’t capitulate. We dug in and held firm. They stuck together and they fought. Penalties are always a toss up so you don’t feel great about winning in penalties but you’re sure happy to move on.”
Initially it did not appear as if it would be their night in Boyds, Md. After just five minutes of play the match was delayed due to lightning. Despite a 7 p.m. kickoff time, play did not resume until around 8:30 pm forcing the teams to play deep into the night in the Maryland suburbs.
When play did resume, things started in a very grim fashion for Orlando. From the restart, D.C. United used a high press in the midfield, led by Luciano Acosta, to disorient the Orlando defense. Off of a nifty 1-2 passing combination with forward Darren Mattocks, Acosta broke free of the Orlando defense and hit his shot past Edwards to give the home side a 1-0 advantage.
United very nearly made it 2-0 when Acosta once again got past the Orlando defense. This time Edwards was up to the challenge, making the kick save to keep his side within one.
That save would come in handy as it emboldened the Orlando attack into motion. Using their advantage in size Orlando pushed their line up with midfielder Justin Meram serving as the focal point of the attack. The Iraqi international took a pass from Sacha Kljestan in the 17th minute and made a quick move towards the corner of the D.C. eighteen yard box. From there he hit a low driving effort far post that United goalkeeper Steve Clark got a handle on but was unable to keep from going into the back of the net.
In the second half, the two sides failed to capitalize on their attacking chances with both Clark and Edwards making several difficult stops to preserve the scoreline. Of the two Edwards faced the stiffest competition, making five saves to Clark’s two.
The match took a dark turn in extra-time with tempers flaring for both sides. In the 99th minute, United midfielder Chris Durkin was sent off after receiving a second yellow card, putting D.C. down to ten men. Twenty minutes later, Orlando defender Mohamed El-Munir earned the ire of the 3,358 in attendance after a challenge on Acosta and proceeding to kick the ball back at him, walking away with just a yellow card. There were several instances of players tussling and some harsh words between each other during extra time but tempers did seem to cool down towards the end of extra time.
In the penalty shootout, Orlando grabbed the lead early with goals from Will Johnson and Sacha Kljestan. A diving effort from Edwards and a failed flick from Acosta gave Orlando the 2-0 advantage. Despite D.C. pulling to within one after Jose Villarreal’s shot was saved by Clark, United were unable to close the gap.
With the shootout win, Edwards joins some select company. The former UCLA Bruin joins Tim Melia as the only goalkeepers with three or more PK shootout wins (one with PSA Elite in 2014, two with Orlando City in 2015, and Wednesday night).
With the win, Orlando gave their interim manager Bobby Murphy his first achievement since taking over for Jason Kreis last Friday. Orlando will advance to face the Philadelphia Union on the road in the Quarterfinals of the US Open Cup on July 18.