Kljestan: Formation Change and Early Goals ‘Always Helps’

Matt Kremkau

By ANTHONY J. MERCED

imagesThe New York Red Bulls are back to their winning formula with early goals and less frantic pressure in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

The team’s captain Sacha Kljestan emphasized those points in postgame comments after Saturday’s 2-0 win over visiting Columbus.

“We’ve talked about how many times this season we’ve gone down 1-0 and had to claw our way back into games,” Kljestan said. “For the way we play especially to take an early lead and make teams come out of their shell against us and have to play a little bit more, then they open up spaces for us to hit them a little bit.”

Kljestan earned a secondary assist when he slipped a pass to Kemar Lawrence, who hit the cross that led to Alex Muyl‘s 11th minute goal against Columbus. Kljestan has been far more active in the middle of the field as opposed to being marooned on the wing as he was earlier in the season. The Red Bulls’ star player has been vocal about his team’s shift back to its past formation and how much it has allowed it to open the game these past few weeks. The dangerous play of Muyl and Bradley Wright-Phillips in front of goal have been prime examples of this increased level of play.

“Brad and I are two of the more important players on the team,” Kljestan said. “If we can be in the best position to succeed, ultimately that’s going to help the team. So, Brad’s been good the last few games. I think he just feels more confident and more consistent in the way he plays when he’s up there by himself, moving along the back line and trying to get on the end of plays. Over all I think the switch back has been pretty good.”

‘Pretty good’ is also a descriptor of where New York (4-3-1, 13 points) is in the standings — tied for second place in the Eastern Conference. It has been a far better start to the season than 2016’s 1-6 stumble out of the gate. Both Kljestan and Coach Jesse Marsch see room for improvement, with the team having played well at home. Last weekend’s win over the Crew was New York’s fourth-straight shutout and prolongs the team’s unblemished defensive record at home.

“It was more about being good tactically,” Kljestan said. “I think they [Columbus] had good possession but they didn’t really turn those into any very good goal-scoring chances. That’s important.”

Next week New York will try to maintain that shutout streak against a visiting Chicago (3-2-2, 11) team that is third in the conference in goals scored. Bastian Schweinsteiger (2 goals) and Nemanja Nicolic (4) lead the team in scoring. The Red Bulls will need a combination of high pressure and sustained possession to quell the rekindled Fire.