SANFORD, Fla. – Forgetting about last year’s disappointing season is not so simple for Sacha Kljestan.
Joining a revamped Orlando City squad, however, is a refreshing feeling heading into his second year with the Lions.
“You don’t want to forget about year one, but you really want to push past it and do better this year,” Kljestan told reporters on Wednesday. “This year, obviously, is a big year for a lot of us. And of course, we want to correct the things that went poorly last year, especially after we had a good start to last season. I’m excited, the group has been great. It’s a real feeling of team togetherness in the locker room. The spirit of the team is really good, so it’s exciting to be around. It’s refreshing.”
Kljestan, 33, joined the Lions ahead of the 2018 MLS season after three seasons with the New York Red Bulls, which saw him post double-digit assist numbers during his tenure.
Those numbers, however, nosedived as the former Anderlecht player recorded just six assists in league play during his first year with Orlando.
Orlando’s worst season in MLS last year also became Kljestan’s most frustrating season of his professional career. So, the midfielder took measures to correct last year’s woes, including distinct ones such as watching the NBA during the offseason to help mold his leadership.
“There are always parts of your game that could get better, that includes leadership,” Kljestan said. “I watch the NBA a lot, and I watch a lot of these guys who sign max contracts, and then you see them get better and better… James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, guys who have already reached the top and you see in the offseason that they work on something that they’re not so good at, and that part is inspiring.
“When I was home this offseason, fitness is always a big part,” he added. “Having such a long offseason, this was the longest offseason I’ve had. Making sure I came in really fit was really important [and] making sure that I got stronger physically.”
The changes in the offseason have mostly revolved around adding younger players, while Kljestan believes head coach James O'Connor has made progress on some of the biggest weaknesses of the team.
“I think James has done a very good job of bringing in a good group of guys with a good mentality and it’s on the players for everybody to buy in,” said Kljestan. “We’re three and a half weeks in, and the level of commitment, the level of buy-in, the togetherness of the group inside and outside of the locker room is at a very good level.
“It’s been a fun preseason so far,” he continued. “It’s been very hard, but’s it’s been fun, and I think we’re pushing in the right direction. I think everybody right now is very optimistic, including myself.”