Orlando City faces Impact in first MLS game with interim coach

After a promising dress rehearsal, interim Orlando City coach Bobby Murphy will take the reins for his first MLS game of the season when the Lions welcome the Montreal Impact to Orlando City Stadium on Saturday.

Five days after the firing of Orlando coach Jason Kreis last week, Murphy was in charge of the Lions’ U.S. Open Cup victory on Wednesday night, when despite the impending short turnaround he decided to start close to his best lineup.

Orlando (6-8-1) responded by prevailing over D.C. United on penalties after a fiercely contested 1-1 draw, in the process perhaps halting the negative momentum of a six-match league losing streak.

“In the moment, you just try to give everything you have, and I think the guys worked really hard tonight,” said midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who assisted Justin Meram’s goal and played all 120 minutes of regulation and extra time.

“It’s certainly not going to be easy to get home tomorrow afternoon and have a short training on Friday and be ready to play on Saturday. But we also know our backs are against the wall, and at any point in the season if we really need to dig deep and grind out another result, that would probably be on Saturday.”

Murphy, who is not expected to remain long as head coach, also deployed an unexpected 3-4-3 formation to aid a defense that had conceded 17 goals during its league losing streak.

That utilized center backs Amro Tarek, Jonathan Spector and Lamine Sane together, with Spector and Sane featuring for just the second time together during an injury-plagued season for both.

It was Montreal (5-11-0) who defeated Orlando 3-0 at Stade Saputo in the final game of the slide that led to Kreis’ departure. As for the Impact, the victory marked a second win in three matches under first-year coach Remi Garde.

Before that, they had lost four straight and eight of nine, a stretch that ran parallel to a five-match scoring drought for offensive catalyst Ignacio Piatti.

But the 33-year-old Argentine found the net twice in the 3-0 victory over the Lions for his sixth and seventh goals of the season, helping Montreal revive what appeared to be a lost season only a few weeks earlier.

“It’s always harder when things aren’t going well,” Piatti said. “It isn’t good for us mentally. But now we’ve won a few games and we’re only four points away from a playoff spot. It’s good for us, for our training sessions, and for our confidence. The team has improved a lot, and we hope to go to Orlando and continue in this way.”