HANOVER, N.J. – No one is a bigger fan of Michael Murillo than Sacha Kljestan, the captain of the New York Red Bulls who was singing the accolades of the defender on Friday. The endorsement comes after Monday’s comments by Kljestan, as he critiqued Murillo’s role in Toronto FC’s go-ahead goal in the Eastern Conference Semifinal first leg.
Sebastian Giovinco’s second-half free kick from 25 yards might never had happened if the Red Bulls had stuck to their game plan to minimize the Toronto attacker’s superb dead ball skills. On the goal, Murillo was supposed to vacate the wall and drop back towards the goal line to cover the near post so as to block any attempts by Giovinco over the wall.
Instead, Murillo peeled off late and Giovinco’s free kick sailed over the Panamanian international’s head. It was part of an evening where the Red Bulls were sloppy, Kljestan singling out that moment among “the little details that annoy me.”
On Friday, Kljestan clarified the remarks about Murillo, who was added to the team just prior to the start of the season.
“Well, I think Amir is good. I think he’s played well all season [since] coming to us. I know I have caught a lot of flak for answering the question about the free kick goal. I never said we lost the game because Amir didn’t do his job on the free kick – I just said he didn’t do his job on the free kick,” Kljestan said.
“We need everybody on the field to do their job to the best of their ability. Ultimately, Giovinco put a great free kick in and we end up losing 2-1. We’re down but not out.”
Murillo has been a major part of the Red Bulls' defense this year. The 22-year-old has played well both ways, adding good instincts to the backline.
Already a vital part of Panama’s national team, Murillo likes to push up into the attack which fits in well with the Red Bulls' style. But he has also been an asset to the backline in terms of his individual defending and counter-pressing.
Kljestan has full confidence in his teammates, including Murillo, that they can pull off an upset in Toronto and advance in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs. And the Red Bulls captain is convinced that the team as a whole will put their best foot forward on Sunday in the decisive leg (3 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes; TSN1/4, TVAS in Canada).
“The mood, in the team, is good. Like I said, we’re down but not out – everybody is good including Amir. He’s had a positive attitude since the day he got here. And he’s very well loved and well-respected within the group. I don’t think anyone likes Amir more than I do here,” Kljestan said.
“I think he’ll be great. When he defends 1-on-1 he rarely gets beat. He’s been a key guy for us in the back. If he can continue to play well we’ll be successful.”