It’s official. Orlando City has completed a blockbuster move to bring USMNT midfielder and New York Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan to the City Beautiful in a deal first reported by Jeff Carlisle of ESPN, the Lions also receive $150,000 in Targeted Allocation Money along with Kljestan in exchange for Young Designated Player Carlos Rivas and Homegrown defender Tommy Redding. Orlando also retained a percentage of any future sale of Rivas and/or Redding, as first reported last night by Paul Tenorio.
“We are thrilled to bring Sacha to Orlando,” General Manager Niki Budalic said in a club press release. “His ability to see the field and make the final pass will be huge assets for us. But more than that, he’s a winner. He’s won everywhere he’s gone, and we look forward to that continuing here.”
“Sacha has been a massive contributor to our current club culture and team success,” said New York Head Coach Jesse Marsch on the Red Bulls’ website. “Saying goodbye to him is an incredibly difficult thing for all of us. He should be considered a club legend and has left a lasting impression on everyone. We wish him great success in the future and we know that he will always be a big part of this club.”
Further details weren’t released, but as Carlisle stated in his report:
Sources confirmed that Kljestan signed a new, two-year contract with Orlando, though it is unclear at present if he will remain a designated player or if his salary will be bought down with TAM.
That said, he will no doubt be expected to provide the kind of consistent attacking presence that saw him finish his time with the Red Bulls as the clubs' all-time assist leader with 51. Kljestan has also been durable, having played in 97 regular season matches during his three seasons in New York.
ProSoccerUSA.com editor Alicia DelGallo said the designation on Kljestan is to be determined by what else Orlando does this off-season.
Still pending league approval. DP/TAM status will be determined later depending on what other players Orlando City acquires during offseason.— Alicia Rose DelGallo (@OSAliciaD) January 2, 2018
Kljestan, 32, led MLS with 17 assists in 2017 and helped the Red Bulls reach the Eastern Conference semifinals before being knocked out by eventual champion Toronto FC. He has directly been involved in 67 goals over the past three seasons in New York, scoring 16 and assisting on 51 others. He has proven to be exactly the kind of setup man strikers like Dom Dwyer and Stefano Pinho (and Cyle Larin if he doesn’t transfer out in this window) require for service in and around the penalty area.
A former Chivas USA player (2006-2010), Kljestan has appeared in 211 career regular-season MLS games (202 starts), scoring 31 goals with 84 assists, with 305 shots. He also has played in 17 playoff games (16 starts), tallying two goals and four assists. Kljestan has reached double figures in assists each of the last three seasons, amassing 14 in his return to MLS in 2015, with 20 more in 2016 and 17 last year. He’s been selected to the MLS All-Star Team twice and the MLS Bext XI twice (both honors came in 2008 and 2016).
He’ll be suspended the first two matches of the MLS season following an altercation at halftime with Jozy Altidore in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The suspension shows the fiery side of Kljestan that has rubbed fans of opposing teams the wrong way during his time in New York. Now he’ll be rubbing fans of Orlando City’s opponents the wrong way.
Kljestan has 52 appearances with the USMNT, scoring six international goals. He spent 2010-2015 with Belgian top flight side Anderlecht, scoring 18 times in 132 matches.
Rivas, 23, has spent the past three seasons with Orlando City, occupying a Designated Player slot since being signed from Deportivo Cali in Colombia in January of 2015. The Colombian is still young but has been disappointing in league play with his wayward shots, wasteful set pieces, and, at times, his hustle on the pitch. Rivas has appeared in 78 matches over the past three seasons (42 starts), scoring eight goals with 13 assists. He set career highs in games (30), starts (21), goals (5), and assists (5) last season. The Colombian has gotten just 42 of his 173 career shots on target.
Redding, 20, was the first Homegrown signing in Orlando City history. A promising young center back that has appeared many times in the U.S. youth national setup, Redding has shown flashes of potential in three MLS seasons but has also been inconsistent in reading the game and has shown some weakness in aerial play in his young career. That said, he’s still got a potentially high ceiling. He’s already appeared in 38 career MLS games (31 starts) without scoring a goal or recording an assist and attempting only two shots — both in 2017 — with one on goal.
“I want to thank Carlos and Tommy for all they’ve done for our Club,” Budalic said in the club release. “I would also like to recognize Tommy for the five years he spent with our organization from USL to MLS, and Carlos as well for being with us since the inaugural season in 2015.”
What This Means for Orlando City
The Lions get a proven veteran still playing at a high level in MLS that does the kinds of things the team needs. Kljestan has tremendous vision and is adept at picking out passes that leave his strikers little to do but beat the goalkeeper, and sometimes they don’t even need to do that. This can only help Dwyer, Pinho, and (again, if he sticks around) Larin. The addition of $150k in TAM will help the club add more pieces or buy down Kljestan or another player to below DP level so the slots vacated by Rivas and Kaká can still be used on bringing in even more talent.
The signing of a two-year contract gives Orlando some security in the attacking midfield for the next two seasons at least.
The loss of Rivas can only hurt if the Colombian reaches his full potential. He’s shown glimpses of being DP-worthy on occasions that have been few and far between. One of those matches came at the expense of his new team, when Orlando City beat the Red Bulls, 5-2, at Red Bull Arena in 2015. He also looked the part at Montreal in 2016. But far too often the young Colombian has left Orlando fans wanting more and a fresh start is probably warranted, given that he doesn’t seem to fit well in Jason Kreis’ system.
Redding is a bigger loss, potentially. The young center back moves well and has great feet. He’s made strides at getting better in the air but he just hasn’t quite mastered the little things at this stage of his career and he’s not the tallest defender, though he’s listed at 6-foot-2. He has the versatility to play some right back and could even be converted to the defensive midfield if he doesn’t pan out as a first-choice MLS center back. However, at just 20, he’s certainly got plenty of potential growth ahead.
My sources have told me the Lions had wanted to re-sign the young defender to a new contract, since his last option year was for 2018. Redding, per these same sources, was willing to ride out his contract. That could potentially have left City without much leverage in retaining his services in MLS after 2018 and the club could have eventually lost him to a foreign suitor on a free transfer.
After three seasons as a backup, it would be understandable if Redding was becoming impatient to crack the starting lineup as a regular, however, judging by the revolving door on the back line this past season, Kreis was becoming increasingly frustrated by the inconsistency shown opposite Jonathan Spector and none of the former USMNT center back’s partners could fully seize the position. This has led to numerous center back rumors this off-season, including the likes of Jonatan Maidana and the resurgence of Gregory Sertic whispers.
In the end, Orlando City made an aggressive move to get better in acquiring Kljestan and it will be interesting to see if he ends up playing the No. 10 in the Kreis diamond midfield, or perhaps on the right, opposite of Yoshimar Yotun. Kreis and Budalic have both said they’re on the lookout for a dynamic No. 10 DP-type player. Kljestan may not even be that player the club ultimately hopes to bring in this off-season, but if the club is unable to land that player, Kljestan provides some good coverage and without taking up an international slot.