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2018 Orlando City Season in Review: Sacha Kljestan

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Kljestan’s first season in purple was solid, but unspectacular.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, the deal to bring Sacha Kljestan to Orlando City last winter looked like a blockbuster. The New York Red Bulls sent their captain — the reigning assist king in Major League Soccer — and $150,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) south in return for one of OCSC’s most promising Homegrown Players as well as a Designated Player in Tommy Redding and Carlos Rivas, respectively

It didn’t work out for New York, with the Red Bulls getting just one appearance out of Redding (which happened to be their wild 4-3 loss to Orlando) and loaning Rivas back to Colombia. Orlando got far more use out of Kljestan, but with the Lions’ 2018 season being somewhat of a disaster, it’s hard to say just how effective the signing was.

Statistical Breakdown

After serving a two-game suspension carried over from last year’s playoffs, Kljestan led all Orlando City players in minutes played with 2,522, which happened to be his lowest total since his return to MLS in 2015. Sacha’s 30 league appearances was also a personal low for the past four seasons. The midfielder did manage to place second for the Lions in goals scored however, putting six in the back of the net — his second-highest total in an MLS season. His six assists were also good enough for third behind Yoshimar Yotún and Chris Mueller, though it was a massive drop-off from his previous season totals of 14, 20, and 17 with the Red Bulls.

Kljestan’s 2.5 chances created per game ranked him a close second for Orlando behind only Yotún’s 2.8 and his total pass completion rate for the year was a solid 83.5%. The midfielder’s average number of attempted passes per match — 49.6 — placed third behind Yoshi and Oriol Rosell.

Defensively, he averaged a tackle, 0.3 interceptions, and 0.6 clearances per game. He committed 18 fouls, drawing 30, and finished the season with four yellow cards and no reds.

Statistically, Kljestan was consistently one of Orlando’s best performers in the midfield.

Best Game

There are a few candidates for Sacha’s best match, but the clear victor is the crazy 3-2 loss to the Columbus Crew in July. While the match was memorable for all of the wrong reasons, Kljestan was massive for the Lions. The midfielder got Orlando on the board early with a clever finish and also provided the world with a hilarious celebration:

The midfielder managed a 79% pass completion rate while chipping in a tackle, an interception, and a clearance defensively (all above his average defensive contributions per match). It was Kljestan again near the hour mark, making a run in behind the Crew’s back line before finding Stefano Pinho at the back post for the go-ahead goal.

Kljestan finished with just 25 touches but managed to create three chances (the rest of the team created three combined) including Pinho’s goal. Kljestan was replaced by Mohamed El-Munir in the 60th minute and had to watch from the sideline as the Lions’ lead slipped away.

2018 Final Grade

The Mane Land staff landed on a final composite grade of 5.5 for Kljestan. Even though Sacha was consistent and productive, the numbers fall short compared to DP attacking midfield expectations. His game has limitations and with some of Orlando’s other major signings not panning out, Kljestan’s impact in turn was hamstrung.

Kljestan hovered around the five mark in our individual post-match ratings for much of the season, though he did have several runs of matches above that and collected four Man of the Match honors throughout the year.

2019 Outlook

The 33-year-old reportedly penned a new two-year contract upon his arrival in Orlando according to Jeff Carlisle of ESPN, one that saw him elevated to Designated Player status. It’s likely that Kljestan returns for the final year of his contract, but his 2018 salary of $1.1 million is within the range capable of being bought down with TAM, so it’s not necessary that he’ll be a DP for that year.

Kljestan’s output is highly reliant on the players around him and that will continue in 2019. The creative midfielder can orchestrate a plethora of chances, but he needs his teammates to finish them. Sacha’s production next year will likely only increase if Orlando City improves the quality of the attackers around him. While even a similar season to 2018 would be a solid contribution next year, he’s shown to be capable of so much more when put in the right situation.


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