HARRISON, N.J. — Perhaps the best player for the New York Red Bulls had a frustratingly disappointing postseason as Sacha Kljestan missed a penalty kick and again was largely taken out of the match in a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Impact on Sunday in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals
And with the Red Bulls now out of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs, the ability of the Impact to close down on Kljestan was certainly a pivotal feature of the two legs of this playoff series. Kljestan was largely bottled up last Sunday in the away leg, finding space and channels difficult to come by. While he had more freedom in the home leg, he still faced a physical side that clogged up the final third and his passing lanes.
Making matters worse for Kljestan, his missed penalty kick midway through the first half changed the course of the match. In the 21st minute, Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush dove to his right and parried away Kljestan’s attempt, preventing the Red Bulls from tying things up on aggregate.
“This week while I worked on them, I made up my mind that I was going to shoot it hard to the left side,” Kljestan said following the match. “Unfortunately, I think I lifted it a little bit too much that it was at the perfect height for him to save it.”
His frustrating night turned worse when, a few minutes later, a collision with the Impact’s Marco Donadel caused a bloody nose. Kljestan went to the sidelines for more than 10 minutes as the training staff attended to him, the Red Bulls playing without their star playmaker the entire time.
He finished out the match with two plugs up his nose and admitted that breathing wasn’t easy.
The extent of the injury for Kljestan, who on Sunday was called up to the US national team for World Cup qualifying, is unknown. He is scheduled to have an x-ray on Monday.
“Don’t know yet, just took one to the nose and it wouldn’t stop bleeding for five minutes there. It was getting pretty close to I think whether I was going to come out of the game or I was going to stay in,” Kljestan said. “I was trying to do my best to try to tell them that I wanted to stay in the game. Finally we got it a little bit of the bleeding to stop. It was coming down my throat; that was the difficult part.”
Although Kljestan managed to finish the match, he couldn't help prevent an early RBNY playoff exit — yet another disappointment for a team that won the Eastern Conference and had cruised into the playoffs with an unbeaten streak that stretched back to July 3.
“In my opinion it doesn’t have to do with tactics, it has to do with us making plays in big moments,” Kljestan said. “In the end, if I score my penalty, it is a very different conversation – then we are back at even. Those types of plays make differences so that is why I feel like I let the team down because in my instance, the game is still there for us.”