BOYDS, Md. -- For Orlando City SC interim coach Bobby Murphy, the decision to field mostly a first-team starting XI in Wednesday night's U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 fixture was an easy one.
"I think the league is important, the cup is important, and I also think getting us right was important in a bigger sense," Murphy said. "The priority was getting us right. And that's what we tried to do."
The result was a berth in the Open Cup quarterfinals after advancing past D.C. United on penalties following a 1-1 draw. Not to mention a bit of much-needed satisfaction for a side that entered having lost six straight in the league, a skid that culminated in the departure of coach Jason Kreis last Friday.
"I spoke with each of the guys individually and they all wanted to play in this game," Murphy said. "They all felt it was important."
Orlando may have scant time to recover from a grueling 120-minute effort that was prolonged even further by an early 90-minute delay for thunderstorms at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Washington's suburbs. They will do so, however, with a better taste in their mouths as they prepare to host Montreal on Saturday.
"Bobby did a good job reminding us of what we were playing for, which is the oldest trophy in the States and a chance to get into [Concacaf] Champions League," Kljestan said.
"In the moment, you just try to give everything you have, and I think the guys worked really hard tonight," he added. "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."
After Luciano Acosta gave D.C. an early lead, Meram pulled Orlando level by taking Kljestan's feed and seizing on slick field conditions to drive a low effort that squirmed through goalkeeper Steve Clark's legs.
Two subs came in, but the duo played deep into extra time, with Meram lifted only in the dying moments for substitute Jose Villarreal.
Villarreal was the only taker of Orlando's five to miss his spot kick. On the first matchnight of Orlando's post-Kreis era, Kljestan converted his, and eventually Josue Colman clinched the Lions' spot in the quarters with their fifth kick.
"It's very sad to see a coach leave, and a guy that we all liked," Kljestan said. "But anytime somebody new comes in, you almost are reinvigorated in a way. And so I think the energy tonight was good."