HARRISON, N.J. – Sacha Kljestan might be finding his stride just in time for a suddenly resurgent New York Red Bulls. Kljestan scored and had an assist on Wednesday night as the Red Bulls cruised to a 5-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.
After finishing an MVP finalist a year ago, Kljestan has had his fair share of struggles. But since scoring three weeks ago in the Round of 16 in the Red Bulls' U.S. Open Cup win over the Philadelphia Union – his first goal in a competitive match this season – Kljestan has seem more settled in the midfield. He’s controlled the flow of play and been able to float into pockets, rotating in and out of the center of the midfield.
He’s beginning to show the form that made him a Best XI selection a season ago. Luckily his good form coincides with a strong Red Bulls run where they have now won three of their last four games in league play - Wednesday’s win pushing them above .500 for the first time since May 6th.
“The team has been starting to hit their stride, results have been pretty good now for the past eight or nine games. We’re hitting our stride, I think we’ve felt very comfortable in this formation change,” Kljestan said following the match. “I think guys are in better spots to succeed now.”
Kljestan’s recent turn of strong performances both in the Open Cup and in MLS have come with a formation switch for New York. After trying the 4-2-2-2 earlier in the year with little success, head coach Jesse Marsch switched back to the familiar 4-2-3-1 he’s utilized the past two seasons.
In that Open Cup win over the Union, Marsch first began to tinker with a version of the 3-6-1 that sometimes looks like a 5-3-2 and can morph into a 3-3-3-1 at other moments. Kljestan’s immediately taken a liking to a formation that seems to suit him well.
“I think having a little bit more help being able to build-up out of the midfield. Most of the time now, we’re four against three, four against two in the midfield,” Kljestan said.
“Having Sean Davis come deep, having Danny come deep – they’ve been good on the ball. Sean has really been a key for us; his ability to play one of those attacking midfield spots but also the ability to come deep. That’s really been a key for us."
This formation frees up Kljestan in the center of the midfield by getting him on the field with Felipe, Tyler Adams, and Sean Davis. The presence of those three other central midfielders has allowed him to combine and move into space while also giving Kljestan the flexibility to be more active in the final-third.
Last year with cover behind him in Felipe and Dax McCarty, traded this offseason to the Chicago Fire, Kljestan was able to float freely knowing that he had two ball-winners behind him in the midfield. He has that freedom once again.
“Yeah, when I say we get the best out of a lot of guys, it gets the best out of Sacha. It gives him a little bit more room to roam. As we're making passes through the midfield, it's not so easy for one [No.] 6 to keep track of him, like teams have often done with us. So if they don't rotate and they stay on Sacha, that means room for Sean and Danny to find little gaps,” Marsch said.
“And if they do rotate, then Sacha can find little holes. Obviously our team is very good when we get him facing goal with guys running in front of him. Yeah, so I think that the overall balance of the midfield has been quite good. Now, I think we can use Sacha a little bit more to the right, little bit more to the left, still deeper sometimes. We haven't used him as a ghost nine, but I think we can do that sometimes."