Sacha Kljestan, pictured on the right with Michael Bradley, is trying to find the right balance being captain and a playmaker. (Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
For Sacha Kljestan, less could be more, much more.
For a good chunk of this season, the Red Bulls new captain has taken his responsibility as team captain seriously, perhaps more seriously.
That appears to have worn on his overall performance and that is not necessarily good for the struggling Major League Soccer side. The Red Bulls snapped a three-game losing streak in their 1-1 home tie with Toronto FC last Friday.
“I found myself trying to coach a lot on the field during games,” Kljestan told reporters after training Thursday, “and it takes away from what maybe I can do with the ball.”
He later added: “There’s a lot of weight on some people’s shoulders — me, Luis [Robles] and Brad [Wright-Phillips] and we’re trying to help carry this team.”
Perhaps too much.
Kljestan, who became only the second Major League Soccer player to register 20 assists in a season in 2016, has six assists in 13 games. Moreover, the team has tallied but 13 goals, a paltry one goal a game pace this season. The one-time Seton Hall University standout has not played at the same level as last year.
So, Kljestan wound up talking with head coach Jesse Marsch last week, which called “the best advice.”
“He just said to me you just have to do your best to focus on yourself and play the best you possibly you can to raise the level of the guys around you,” Kljestan said. “For me right now, it’s less talking and more playing.”
Kljestan was named captain after the team dealt Dax McCarty to Chicago in January.
“Listen there’s a lot that goes into wear the armband, especially for bigger clubs in our league and the New York Red Bulls being one of them,” Marsch said. “It’s hard for anyone to know exactly to wear that armband and carry that responsibility until you’re actually in that [situation].
“I know how strong a leader Sacha is and how much he cares about his team and this club and how much he has enjoyed being here. It’s important for him to know the things that specifically make him good and to stick to that. The more that he is trying to do is almost taking away from some of the things that he does well. And you know what? The way he leads our team the best is by having so much confidence and being so sharp on the field that everyone is just ready to hope onto his shoulders.”
Marsch wasn’t finished.
“I said I think he has done a good job in terms of his leadership within the group, but he probably needs to focus a little bit more on himself to get himself as sharp and as good as we know that he is and that by doing that, that’s the best thing he can do for the team right now,” he said. “He has taken that message the right way and gotten better and better. I expect his best performance to be on Saturday night.”
That would be against the New England Revolution at Red Bull Arena.