For the Lions, it’s the end of the club’s worst season in their short MLS history, that saw them off to a promising start that soon nosedived to a point of no return.
For Kljestan, playing in his first season with Orlando and after leading the league in assists the last two years as a player for the New York Red Bulls, it was the most difficult season of his career.
“Personally, I’d say it’s been the hardest, most difficult, most frustrating season of my career,” Kljestan told reporters before Wednesday’s training session. “Thirteenth year now, I think, of my career and this is the first losing season I’ve had, so it’s been very difficult to deal with."
Orlando will miss out on the playoffs again, sitting last on the Eastern Conference table while setting a league record of 73 goals allowed entering Sunday’s match against the Red Bulls (4:30 pm ET | TV & Streaming Info).
Kljestan, who finished 2017 with a league-high 17 assists for the Red Bulls, admitted this wasn’t his best individual year after managing to record six assists for the Lions – far from his own expectations.
“I’d say on a personal level, not up to the expectations that I expect to be part of,” said Kljestan. “I think my performances were up and down this season, definitely not as consistent as they have been throughout the rest of my career.”
“And I think that can be said about everybody on the team, especially when you go through such a bad losing season like we did. I don’t think anybody can look in the mirror at the end of the season and say they had a good season.”
Kljestan, 33, said he’ll take a few weeks off after the season officially ends, adding he’ll train this offseason back home in California.
Win or lose on Sunday against his former club, the disappointment of 2018 will serve as motivation to respond a lot differently next year with Orlando.
“Every offseason that ends without a championship, my immediate thought is that I wish the preseason started in about two, three weeks from now where I could take two-to-three weeks off and get going again,” Kljestan said. “Unfortunately, we have a very long offseason, so I get really antsy and really bored, so I’ll be taking [some time] off, and I’ll start training again pretty hard out in California and just be ready to go. I think motivation becomes very big after a season like this, so next season is going to be very big not only for myself but for the entire club.”
Despite a difficult season for Kljestan professionally in Orlando, that hasn’t deterred his thoughts about living in Central Florida this year and going forward.
The midfielder credited his family, calling them his “silver lining” he gets to go home to every day after training or games.
“We really like where we live. My daughter is in a really good school,” he said. “At first, my daughter didn’t really like the heat so much… so the thing we always went back to was now you have a swimming pool. I’ve got to spend a lot of time with my kids this season, in the backyard, the pool and stuff like that. We really enjoy where we live, it’s been nice. The people of Orlando and Central Florida have been extremely welcoming to us which is really nice to us as a community.”