Red Bulls Ride Kljestan, Key Sub in Tough Road Draw

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by RUSS McKENZIE

In an emotional and physical encounter, the New York Red Bulls were able to ride the wave to a gutsy performance and came out with a point on the road.

Leading that charge were starter Sacha Kljestan — and some interesting substitution decisions from head coach Jesse Marsch.

On Friday night, the task was simple – limit the chances that Orlando City stars Cyle Larin and Kaka are able to create. That tactic also meant trying to find a balance of when to to sit back, and when to play typical Red Bulls high pressing soccer.

“As much as we tried to play up the field we felt at that time it was more important to secure the back line and not give the anymore opportunities with Kaka and [Cyle] Larin,” Marsch said while addressing the media after the match. “What was interesting was making a defensive sub actually helped us grab a hold of the game and gain a little bit more possession.”

The sub Marsch referenced was the decision to remove Bradley Wright-Phillips from the match in lieu of defender Chris Duvall. This left Argentine Gonzalo Veron as the lone striker and left five at the back.

After the switch the Red Bulls were able to weather the pressure that Orlando was laying on, and turned the tide of possession in the 2nd half. While the Red Bulls allowed a total of 12 shots on goal, only four of those were on target.

On the other side of the ball, the Red Bulls rode the creative play of midfielder Sacha Kljestan. This season, the American has settled in to his role as New York’s creative engine. That creativity was on full display on the Red Bulls’ lone goal on Friday night. Kljestan received the ball with time to look up, and put his pass directly into the path of Bradley Wright-Phillips. The striker was able to put the ball past Lions’ keeper Joe Bendik with ease.

Looking at the way Kljestan drove the Red Bulls train on Friday night, it should come as no surprise that the midfielder leads MLS in assists with six.

By the way, that means that Kljestan has assisted on almost half of the Red Bulls 13 goals this season.

Marsch recognized Kljestan’s role after the match. “His ability to dictate the game and see plays and setup attacking players and find gaps in the midfield and meet the demands physically of how we ask him to play, to pressure, to run, to win battles and head balls, he’s the perfect number ten for us. He really is.”

“As high of expectations as I’ve had for him he’s exceeded them,” Marsch continued. “I think that even when every team plays us and they know how important Sacha is, he still manages to have great games and dictate and control the game. Obviously the play made to setup the goal was a very good play, thought he had a lot of good plays in the game. A very important guy for us.”

One person who knows the worth of Kljestan was Friday night’s goalscorer Bradley Wright-Phillips. In fact, Kljestan’s place as the number one distributor in Major League Soccer was no surprise to the English striker.

“Sacha’s always got it,” he said. “I think he ended last season with a good number of assists but he’s been on fire lately. He has been one of our best players of late. I just hope he keeps up. He’s finding those areas; once he finds those areas and turns, he is very dangerous.”