HANOVER, N.J. — For the first time since a blockbuster offseason trade, former New York Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan is returning to Red Bull Arena and the Orlando City SC midfielder wants nothing more than to come away with a season-ending win on Decision Day presented by AT&T.
If that means spoiling a possible Supporters’ Shield party for his friends, so be it.
"Yeah, yeah let's be honest it's not going to be very fun for me.” Kljestan told reporters following Sunday’s 2-1 win against Columbus Crew SC, where he scored the winning penalty in stoppage time. “Personally, if we go up to New York and watch them win the Supporters' Shield, honestly, I wish all my ex-teammates all the best, but I don't want that to happen on my watch. So, yeah we'll try to play spoilers next week.”
He amended those comments a bit days later, saying he’s in a no-win situation on Sunday, but Kljestan’s former Red Bulls teammates aren’t upset or plan to use that quote as any motivation.
They would do the same.
“He’s on another team. If I was him I’d be trying to win too,” Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “Their season hasn’t been great so they’re going to have to get something out of here. For him, that would be a big accomplishment to stop us winning the Shield. I don’t see him playing any other way. I want him to come and play well. We’ll be up for the game and we’ll see what happens.”
Wright-Phillips has fond memories about his time with Kljestan, and for good reason. He was the forward’s top distributor. Kljestan had 51 assists in league play over the course of three seasons for the Red Bulls. Wright-Phillips scored 58 goals during the same period.
“The kind of player I am, I’m not too fancy, I like to run in behind and for me to have success on the pitch I need guys like Sacha and he was a great passer and a clever player,” Wright-Phillips said. “I kind of thrive off those kind of guys.”
Although Derrick Etienne, Jr. didn’t get many opportunities to play with Kljestan in league matches, the Homegrown forward saw first-hand in training how special Kljestan was, both in terms of his skill-set and his leadership ability.
“Being around him in training, just seeing how competitive he is, the type of leader he is, he’s a different leader than Brad and Luis [Robles],” Etienne said. “I felt that his movement was one of the best in the league, how he was able to find space constantly and be able to thread that final ball. He’s a very good player and we definitely have to look out for him.”
On Sunday, Kljestan will be on the other side, trying to be the influential playmaker for the visitors and trying to stop the Red Bulls from winning their third Shield in six years.
Although Kljestan’s jersey and affiliation has changed, his competitiveness is the same as when he wore the captain’s armband for the Red Bulls.
“He’s a winner, he’s a competitor and we know that better than anyone because he did it for us for a long time,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “Of course he wants to win, of course he wants to spoil things for us and we want to play against Sacha. We’ll look forward to playing against him and we hope we get his best and he knows that we’ll have to prepare for him too, specifically.”