By ANTHONY J. MERCED
Sacha Kljestan addressed recent tweaks to the team’s formation by discussing the differences between New York and sister club RB Leipzig, which has had a head-turning season in Germany’s Bundesliga.
“You look at the 4-2-2-2 that a team like Leipzig does and, you know, they have different types of guys,” Kljestan said after Saturday night’s 2-0 victory against visiting D.C. United. “With the guys we have, the comfort level is just higher in the 4-2-3-1. Obviously it’s been over two years now we’ve been playing that and obviously I’ve been playing in the middle spot for a while. So the comfort level is higher.”
New York has reverted to its 4-2-3-1 formation that helped it win the Eastern Conference title two years in a row. The change helped the team beat D.C. and end a four-game skid. Kljestan, the team’s captain, looked far more comfortable in central midfield than on the wing, where Coach Jesse Marsch slotted him in earlier in the season. On Saturday, Kljestan quarterbacked the team’s offense, providing the corner kick cross that Alex Muyl nodded into the goal.
“I thought that Sacha covered a lot of ground,” Marsch said. “He sprinted, he countered pressed a lot, he pressed a lot and that, I thought, helped set to the tone for the team. Even in the first half we weren’t really able to develop as much in the attacking part of the field with the ball, but sometimes when you play against D.C. United and in these big games, that’s how you have to meet the standard of that for maybe 45 minutes, maybe 60 minutes, maybe 90 minutes until the same settles down.”
The 4-4-2 is a formation RB Leipzig has used to solidify a Champions League position while chasing Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. Marsch, having made several trips to Europe to sit under the Ralf Rangnick learning tree, has returned for two straight seasons with the intention of playing in a similar fashion. Leipzig’s team is much younger, however, quicker to recover and plays in a superior league. Major League Soccer has a reputation as a physical league and teams have pushed the Red Bulls into one-on-one battles that has not been suitable against a European formation. That’s why Marsch has decided to adjust.
“I think it helps that we went back to our old formation,” said Kljestan, who has 37 assists in three seasons with New York, including a 20-assist season in 2016. “The guys feel a little bit more comfortable and an important aspect of our is having our guys feel confident and comfortable. Obviously, when I play in the middle I get the ball more often and hopefully I can settle the game down for us and try to make plays to make the guys around me better. So I think I did that pretty good tonight.”