Orlando City SC midfielder Sacha Kljestan made some waves this week when he said that his former team, the New York Red Bulls, did not bring in enough "difference makers" to bolster the talent already on the squad.
His one-time teammate, Red Bulls midfielder Sean Davis, responded to those comments, saying "I’m really happy with the club, and the direction, and their courage to build it their own way."
Davis spoke about Kljestan's comments, and the Red Bulls' approach, on the Seeing Red podcast this week.
"I think, if you’re a person that hasn’t followed the club that closely over the years, you may think that what he’s saying has some truth behind it, but I personally don’t agree with it," Davis said. "That’s nothing against Sacha at all. I respect him because he speaks his mind, he says what’s on his mind, and I’m sure that’s gathering a lot of attention, but in my eyes I’m really proud to be a part of this club and everything that they stand for."
Kljestan was the second Red Bulls captain in as many offseasons to be traded away, following the departure of Dax McCarty to the Chicago Fire ahead of the 2017 season. While the Red Bulls have explicitly said they're aiming to develop talent, including the likes of Davis, they have loosened the purse strings at times to bolster the squad, including the Designated Player contract for Argentine attacker Gonzalo Veron in 2015 and have recently been heavily linked with a multi-million dollar move for Argentine midfielder Alejandro 'Kaku' Romero Gamarra.
But Veron's lack of impact on the field, coupled with the trades of McCarty and Kljestan – key veterans who were aging but still among the best in the league at their respective positions when traded – has led to considerable discussion about the efficacy of New York's approach.
To Davis, the philosophy to emphasize the academy and make prudent purchases on the transfer market is something to take pride in.
"I know at times fans might be frustrated at a lack of, I don’t know, ‘star power,’ or ‘star signings,’ but what I’m most proud of is that the club has a philosophy, and they stay true to that, regardless of situations and public opinion," he said.
And while the Red Bulls are still looking to get over the hump and find MLS Cup glory, Davis points to the success achieved, which includes Supporters' Shield titles in 2013 and 2015, as an indication that the project is ambitious and leading to results.
"If you look over the past three seasons that I’ve been here, and even prior to that, the club has had its fair share of success," he explained. "The club has taken its own approach and done its own thing. If you were 75 percent of the teams in the league I think you’d be really happy with the direction of the club, but this is a team with very high standards, not only from the fans but from the staff, and from the players. We’ve been close but not close enough."
As one of the academy products made good, Davis admitted his perspective is likely different from Kljestan's: "Maybe I’m biased because it’s served me very well, but at the same time, one of the best feelings is developing talent and watching them go on the field and give absolutely everything they have for the club."
You can hear all of Davis' interview on the Seeing Red podcast.