Harrison, NJ (April 17, 2015) – After years of honing his craft in Europe, the New York Red Bulls welcomed Sacha Kljestan back to the league he was born in. Kljestan left MLS for the European adventure that took him to the UEFA Champions League with Anderlecht. He has not really been in the US National Team conversation for many years, having last played under Bob Bradley in 2010. Even the hat trick he scored in qualifying, however, was not enough to help him make the 23 man roster for Bradley’s 2010 World Cup team.
But before all this, Bob Bradley coached both Kljestan and Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch on Chivas USA. Marsch was nothing spectacular as a player, but he had drive and heart. Kljestan, however, was a rookie of the year finalist in 2006. And then off Sacha went. Marsch finished out his playing career and turned to coaching, first coaching Montreal in their inaugural season. But before that, Marsch was an assistant coach for Bob Bradley in that 2010 World Cup tournament.
If Bradley were watching this match, one got the feeling that he was smiling at the connection between former coaching colleague and player.
Tonight, against and incredibly outmatched San Jose Earthquakes side, Sacha Kljestan took a ball on the off side and drilled home a goal to open the scoring for the Red Bulls. The Red Bulls ran the score sheet – 21 total attempts at goal, 12 corners, and 79.6% passing accuracy are the biggest numbers provided by Opta. But, that only tells part of the story. In his best game in a Red Bulls kit, Kljestan still wasn’t satisfied. “I’m not too happy with my performance tonight if I’m being honest. I think a lot of us weren’t our best today, I think besides the result we didn’t do a lot of great things so we’ve got a lot to improve on, and I think I have a lot to improve upon as well,” he said.
Goalkeeper Luis Robles, who made several great saves to preserve the clean sheet, echoed that sentiment, “We got the result, but the frustrating thing is we know we can be better. We want to be able to handily finish teams off. There were moments when (San Jose) was the better team.”
Captain Dax McCarty seemed to feel the same way about it, “We are certainly getting some good results, but we’re going to hold ourselves to a very high standard. Our energy can be better with the ball. We can be sharper. I think we were very sloppy tonight. I think the sign of a good team is to never be satisfied.”
Kljestan seemed to build momentum as the match wore on, much like his teammates. As the second half started, the match turned chippy, with the Quakes commiting 8 fouls in the final half, to the Red Bulls 7. When asked bout the physical play, Kljestan told reporters, “DC came out and kicked the crap last week, and I don’t think we responded well enough to protect each other and also to just fight back against them. I think the battling was pretty good tonight. We just need to clean up our touches so we feel a little bit better about ourselves.”
One player that fell victim to the rise in aggression was Lloyd Sam, who the Quakes’ Cordell Cato took a special interest in towards the middle of the second half. Sam seemed to get knocked around quite a bit and came out in the 76′. Sal Zizzo showed some of his own versatility in relief, playing on the right side for the first time this season. Once Dane Richards came on the field, Zizzo moved back over to the left, and again, the Red Bulls controlled the play. Marsch was questioned about it in post game, he stated, “I think it’s going to take some time. He felt a little something in his hamstring, but I think it will take a little time to evaluate and see where he’s at and hopefully, he’ll be ok.”
One noteable match up from this match was Dax McCarty vs Fatai Alashe. McCarty seemed to continuously frustrate Alashe, who committed two fouls on the defensive midfielder in the first half. As the game wore on, so did Alashe’s and the Quakes’ patience. Even as the Quakes pressed the Red Bulls a bit in the second, the danger never seemed quite real, and Kljestan and the Red Bulls pushed through, using some of their depth to seal the victory. Even Homegrown Player Sean Akira Davis got in on the action, putting in a solid ten minutes.
Bradley Wright-Phillips could have made the scoreline 4-0 by the end, but, despite all the other things he’s been doing on the field, the ball just would not go for him tonight. One can hardly criticize the 2014 Golden Boot winner, especially with all the other aspects of his game that have surfaced this season. He displayed that hold up ability mentioned earlier this season and seems to be growing some chemistry with Kljestan, who has grown to be the center of the Red Bulls high press. Kljestan, as humble as you’d expect, stated simply, “I think it’s gotten a little bit better day-by-day. I think my relationship with Bradley is getting better. I still think I wasn’t as sharp as I should have been tonight. I think I could have created three or four more real goal scoring opportunities, but it’s getting better and it’s nice to get on the score sheet cause that kind of gets the monkey off the back, and then you feel a little bit more comfortable in front of the goal and not so stressed. So in that aspect it’s okay, but I think we need to continue to keep getting better.”
Even with the result, the Red Bulls are hardly resting on their laurels. The common theme in post game was the fact that New York let San Jose back in the game. Whereas the midfield had a tremendous game on the score sheet, Marsch still saw room for improvement, “I think overall, our midfield overwhelmed their midfield, and Sacha was a big part of that. If you were to track balls we gave away, I think we gave away too many in midfield, and Sacha would probably tell you he gave away too many. We don’t focus so much on possession as much as we do reactions and tactical focus and pace of the game, so there’s going to be mistakes. Even when guys don’t have their best nights, we make sure we’re being who we want to be.”
New York Red Bulls continue their current homestand Sunday April 26th when they welcome the defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy, which may be their toughest test yet this season. Despite the subdued mood in the locker room, the feeling around this club continues to defy reason. Even the normally stoic Sporting Director Ali Curtis was fired up after the match tonight, rolling into the tunnel high fiving the support staff and vocally expressing his happiness to everyone around him. It’s that feeling, the one that is in such stark contrast to the events of just a few short months ago, this club is pinpoint focused on. It’s that aura of defiance that has made the New York Red Bulls THE story in MLS so far this season.
Featured Photo: Bill Twomey – Bill Twomey Photography