The Orlando City brass made an aggressive move in (reportedly) picking up New York Red Bulls’ play-maker Sacha Kljestan and sending Homegrown defender Tommy Redding and Young Designated Player Carlos Rivas back to Harrison, NJ.
For a front office that has been attempting to #DefyExpectations since 2015, Niki Budalic and company have finally pulled together some of the best attacking talent in MLS in the past six months, but it meant trading the future for the present. It was a win-now statement splash for hands down the most productive creative player in MLS since 2015.
So was it worth it?
The two young talents Orlando sent to the Red Bulls for Kljestan in Rivas and Redding had opposite tenures in purple. Rivas had high expectations coming in with a coveted Designated Player tag that he didn’t live up to over three seasons. Redding signed while the Lions were still in the USL and has made good on his 38 appearances in MLS. While Rivas has had his ups and downs, Redding showed plenty of signs of promise since he signed in 2014. It’s a bittersweet deal for the City faithful and losing a local prospect is never fun. And even though Rivas had a habit of being wasteful on the offensive end, five goals and five assists in a season isn’t simple to replace. Redding was not without his own potential question marks as our own Michael Citro reported that Redding was by no means certain to be on the roster in 2019.
This move was not entirely about trading potential for immediate production. Budalic also threw in some significant stipulations to ensure Orlando wouldn’t be snake-bitten. Kljestan signed a new contract with the Lions, adding an extra year onto his deal. Orlando also got some insurance should New York sell either Rivas or Redding on.
Just to add on to @JeffreyCarlisle reporting: Orlando City kept percentage of both Redding and Rivas sell-on fee. Sliding scale over years, but some insurance should RBNY sell either prospect.— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) January 2, 2018
In return, City received one of the top creators in MLS. His 51 assists in regular season play over the last three years is 15 more than the next player — MVP Sebastian Giovinco — over that span. With the ability to combine with Dom Dwyer, Orlando’s offense could be exponentially improved from where it was at this point in 2017.
The biggest knock on Kljestan is his age. Already 32 years old, there is the very real threat that his best years are behind him and that the downturn could begin at any point. After all, there is a reason that the Red Bulls have been shopping him for all his accolades and stat-stuffing seasons in Red Bull Arena. Orlando City fans have already watched Kaká spend his twilight years in purple and while the Brazilian legend still made an impact, the decline was noticeable. For a side that just cut ties with older players like Kaká and Antonio Nocerino, Kljestan has the potential to be more of the same. But he’s also playing at a higher level than either of the others were at 32.
He also has attitude questions and will be suspended for the first two games of the season after a rumble with Jozy Altidore in the playoffs. He’s not a direct replacement for Kaká either, as he’s never been a goal scorer and will need someone else to finish the chances he creates. All of these will be questions that Head Coach Jason Kreis and the Orlando coaching staff must deal with.
But the bottom line is this: no other player has created more chances in the league over the past three seasons. Only one player in the history of the league has more assists in a three-year span and that was Carlos Valderrama when he was bouncing between the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion. Kljestan will far and away be an immediate difference maker from day one.
The Lions also got some cap freedom, with the potential to open up a Designated Player spot with Rivas’ exit and an extra $150,000 in Targeted Allocation Money that could go toward buying down Kljestan or another impact signing. There’s plenty to like from Orlando’s end of this trade.
While it’s easy to look at the Kljestan deal in a vacuum, there are plenty of moves yet to come from Orlando. Contingency plans for life after Sacha can still be realized — and just might be if rumors surrounding Paraguayan attacker Josue Colman come to fruition. Rivas and Redding are not irreplaceable players and the Lions still have plenty of time to patch the holes in the roster before opening day. The Lions now have an extra hole to plug on the back line.
But Rivas and Redding were not going to be players that put Orlando City into the playoffs in 2017. Kljestan just might be.