Sacha Kljestan: “I think for the last two years I think I have been one of the best attacking mids in the league. I also think if you put me at box-to-box midfielder I’m going to be the best box-to-box midfielder in the league as well.” (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
NEW YORK — With Sacha Kljestan struggling as the Red Bulls’ playmaker, head coach Jesse Marsch decided to switch him and Felipe at midfield last week.
It worked out just fine, thank you.
“The important thing, especially in this game, which has happened a lot this year, the middle of the midfield in our opponents are pretty homed in on making life hard for me,” Kljestan said. “So I found as I dropped deeper they came and they came and they left a huge gap behind their backs in front of their defensive line. Alex Muyl was able to come in and really exploit that space, so was Danny [Royer] and eventually Felipe.
“It was important for us to be able to build out of the back a little bit more and it helped. I was able to get on the ball more. I had a ton of touches in that game. I was able to just help us have and sustain possession in deep spots and moving us up the field. I don’t know if that’s something that we’re going to stick to in the long-term.
“I played in that position for five years at Anderlecht. It is maybe my best position. I don’t know. I think for the last two years I think I have been one of the best attacking mids in the league. I also think if you put me at box-to-box midfielder I’m going to be the best box-to-box midfielder in the league as well. I have complete faith in my abilities no matter where Jesse puts me on the field, I’m going to help the team make plays.”
He might have tallied only once in seven previous Hudson River Derby encounters, yet David Villa still is the most feared New York City FC player.
“I think we would be dumb not to say David Villa,” Kljestan said. “The impact he has had on his team the last two years has been at the highest level in MLS. Maybe a handful of other guys have been on a equal with him as having an impact on their teams. For us, he is the type of guy who can be quiet for 90 minutes but he’ll pop up and you look at the stat line and he’ll have six shots on goal.
“He always seems to make space for himself. We know he’s important. I hope he knows he’s in for a very long day.”
The 2006 Golden Ball winner, Villa has recorded 10 goals and eight assists this season.
“You always to have be aware of David Villa,” he said. “Even in the U.S. Open Cup game he was a little unlucky with the way things went. He went off the post and was constantly in dangerous positions. And of course, when Maxi went down, he didn’t have anyone providing him, sort of, entry passes, services that he needs to be dangerous. But you can expect on Saturday that he will have that.”
The teams clash at Red Bull Arena at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Telling it like it is
Kljestan pulled no punches as to which team was better on the night when the Red Bulls won their Open Cup match — NYCFC.
“I thought they were better,” he said. “I thought that they had more mobility in the middle of the field. That makes life a little bit harder for us. Their ability to counter press on the ball, turn over, their athletic ability was at a higher level than us. So, it helps them out. Even their system of play, they have their style. It’s just gotten better over the years. I was impressed. I think they’re pretty good.”
Back where he belongs
Robles is expected to be back between the pipes for the Red Bulls against NYCFC Saturday after taking a hard knock during the 2-0 win at the Philadelphia Union Sunday.
Philly’s Chris Pontius crashed into Robles and hit the keeper’s temple.
“I had a headache yesterday,” he said at MLS Rivalry Week media day. “I feel better today. I had a little bit of a welt, but don’t feel anything residual. There doesn’t seem to be anything cause for concern. At the moment of impact, with him and all the stuff going on at the moment, I just felt a little bit dizzy, but since then it has subsided.
“He got my temple. At first, I was a little upset. It was my boy Pontius, but he didn’t mean to do it on purpose. Nonetheless, he got me pretty good.”
Goalkeeper in Wait
With Robles having not missed a league match since the end of the 2012 season, being the Red Bulls’ backup goalkeeper is like being the Maytag repair man. Translated: you hardly ever work.
Fordham University graduate Ryan Meara got a rare start in a big game last Wednesday, June 14 when he was in goal for the 1-0 win over NYCFC in the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup at Red Bull Arena.
Robles realized the quality that Meara has brought to the field. Meara was a rookie sensation for the Red Bulls during the 2012 Major League Soccer season before a hip operation sidelined him for the rest of the season. That indirectly opened the door for Robles.
“Not only is Ryan a good goalkeeper, but he’s a great teammate,” Robles said. “For him to be able to endure what he has over the last few years speaks of his character. When I look at Ryan and the quality that he has, I just think there are so many teams in this league that he probably could be starting for. For whatever reason, it’s his personal decision to remain with us. At the end of the day, I hope that down the road that if it’s here or somewhere else that Ryan is able to show on a more consistent basis the quality that he possesses.”
Looking back at a ‘terrible’ game and brace
After he tallied two late goals to lift the Red Bulls over the Union, Bradley Wright-Phillips said he was “terrible.”
Two days later, BWP looked back at the game.
“Obviously understand that scoring goals is my job, but the other day (he laughs) I was lucky to be on the field,” he said. “Jesse had every right to take me off. I wasn’t playing well, I wasn’t happy with my performance. But he has challenged me in the past, just stay in the game and that’s what I did. And i managed to get two goals. I don’t want to be (frightened) with like performances like that.”
Kljestan said that Wright-Phillips was disappointed because he did not retain possession enough when the team was building up and had a man-advantage due to a red card.
“I told him, ‘When we go up a man, and we’re sustaining so much possession in their half, you don’t need to touch the ball until it’s a shot on shot or when you’re in the opponent’s box,’ ” Kljestan said. “He probably had at most 10 touches in the second half and two of them wind up in as tap-in goals while making really clever runs off of defenders. If you go back and watch it, their two center backs were completely lost on both goals that he put it. It’s just super, clever movement he has in the box.
Wright-Phillips has eight goals in 16 matches this season.
“It’s funny because I read something this morning how average or bad he’s been this season, but he’s got eight goals,” Kljestan said. “If he is on pace for 17 goals this season I think we’ll all say yes, ‘We’ll take it out of our striker,’ even though he set the bar so high for himself.
“Our confidence in him remains as high as possible and Bradley’s going to continue to score goals for us as the season goes on.”