HARRISON, N.J. – If you’re looking for a reason for the New York Red Bulls’ much improved offensive effort on Saturday night, you needn’t glance further down the team sheet than the name of Sacha Kljestan.
As if answering New York coach Jesse Marsch’s comments earlier in the week asking for a more balanced, two-way effort, Kljestan gave that and some.
But beyond his displays in the final third, Kljestan was consistently backtracking and clogging things up centrally. His high workrate -- coupled with Felipe and Tyler Adams in the center of the midfield -- frustrated a D.C. United attack that had looked sharp a week ago in a 2-1 win over New York City FC.
“He sprinted. He counter-pressed a lot. He pressed a lot,” Marsch said. "And that, I thought, helped set the tone for the team.”
The assist and overall sparkling performance from Kljestan comes after a slow start from the midfielder, who has a bit of a habit of them.
In the first six games of last season, Kljestan had a single goal and one assist during that span. In the half-dozen games that marked his return to MLS in 2015, Kljestan never found the scoresheet.
After Saturday night, Kljestan now has three assists on the season.
“Almost complete,” Kljestan said. “I guess no matter what I do, I’ll never say I had a 10-out-of-10 game.”
Kljestan led a wholly improved looking Red Bulls team that came into this fixture without a win since the season’s second match.
At the start of a three-match homestand, the win was also New York’s first match scoring multiple goals without the help of an own goal, with Bradley Wright-Phillips joining Muyl on the scoresheet with his third goal of the season.
“I think we created some good chances tonight which is nice to have some clear-cut chances and guys burry them,” Kljestan said. “Obviously getting a goal off a set pieces helped. Alex Muyl made a big play.”
What might stick is how good Kljestan and his teammates looked in their new (albeit old) formation after starting the season in a 4-2-2-2 shape that never seemed to click.
In last week’s unlucky 1-0 loss at Orlando City SC and now this win over United, the Red Bulls played the 4-2-3-1 they preferred throughout the last two years.
“Obviously it’s been over two years that we’ve been playing (it) and obviously I’ve been playing in that central spot for some time now,” Kljestan said. “So yeah, the comfort level is higher.”