When Orlando City traded for veteran attacking midfielder Sacha Kljestan on Jan. 3, 2019, it seemed like a pretty big deal. Kljestan was, after all, coming off a 17-assist season with the New York Red Bulls. The Lions also received $150,000 in Targeted Allocation Money in the trade, which sent Carlos Rivas and Tommy Redding to New York. Neither of those players spent much time playing for the Red Bulls, while Kljestan received minutes but struggled to make an impact on a historically bad Orlando squad a year ago.
Year 2 in Orlando didn’t go any better for the play-making midfielder, as Kljestan saw a sharp drop in games, starts, and minutes played in 2019 and was asked to play deeper in the midfield this season compared to last. Let’s take a look at how his season went.
Kljestan played his fewest minutes since returning to Major League Soccer in 2015, making only 23 league appearances (13 starts) for 1,352 minutes this past season. All of those numbers were his lowest in an MLS full season. Only in 2010, when he transferred from Chivas USA to Anderlecht in mid-season, did the mustachioed one see the field less in MLS. Still, he made a bit of an impact, scoring one goal and adding three assists while taking 19 shots (six on target). His assist total was tied for fifth best on the team. The midfielder passed at a 79.9% rate and averaged a key pass per appearance — tied for third on the club in that category among those who played at least eight games with Orlando.
Defensively, he averaged one tackle 0.4 interceptions, and 0.5 clearances per match. He committed 19 fouls, drawing 11, received three yellow cards and one red card, and was offside once.
He also appeared in all four of Orlando’s U.S. Open Cup matches, starting all four and playing 342 minutes. He scored two goals in USOC play, attempting five shots with two on target. He committed two fouls and drew four on the opposition.
Although Kljestan played well early in the season, receiving high marks on March 23 at New York — scoring the game-winning goal against his former team — April 20 against Vancouver, and June 29 at Columbus, his best match came in U.S. Open Cup play, when he scored twice on two shots against Memphis 901 FC in a 3-1 road victory. After setting up a Santiago Patino flick that went just wide, Kljestan opened the scoring from the spot in the 38th minute with a confident and well-struck penalty.
He then got his brace in the run of play, just five minutes after Memphis had equalized to restore Orlando’s away lead. Kljestan sent Cristian Higuita down the right on the counter-attack, then finished the Colombian’s return pass to make it 2-1 at the time.
Kljestan also played a role on Robin Jansson’s insurance goal, heading Chris Mueller’s corner kick cross back in front, where Patino got a touch to it and Jansson fed on the scraps to give the Lions some breathing room.
With a part in all three goals, a free kick drawn, and two goals from two shots, that June 12 match was Kljestan’s best of the season, though, as mentioned earlier, he did have some nice early games in league play as well.
2019 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff, gave Kljestan a 5.5 composite grade for the 2019 season. This is the same exact score The Mane Land gave Kljestan a season ago. His role was more prominent last season but his play did not live up to the lofty expectations. This season, he was asked to do less and play deeper at times. He was used much more sparingly, particularly in the later stages of the season, when he didn’t start any of the team’s last 11 games from late July on. In fact, he appeared in only five of the team’s last 11 games and didn’t play more than 36 minutes in any of them. As his role diminished toward the end of the year he seemed to get a lower match rating, averaging better than a 6 in the first half of the year and under 5.5 in the second half.
I think it’s highly unlikely that Kljestan will return to Orlando in 2020. The 35 minutes he played in the season-ending loss to Chicago will probably be the last ones he plays in purple. Kljestan is 34 years old and made $1.1 million in 2019. A goal and three assists isn’t a great return on investment for that kind of money.
Kljestan’s not quite as nimble as he once was and that sometimes results in horribly mistimed challenges like the one that got him sent off July 3 in a 3-1 home loss to Philadelphia. I think Kljestan can still be a useful MLS player in the right system, potentially even in whatever the eventual new Orlando coach brings to the club, but my guess would be that Kljestan is ready to move on and the Lions would definitely need him to take a sizable pay cut to remain in the City Beautiful.
No doubt there are many Orlando fans who will be happy to see Kljestan go but I don’t think he was necessarily set up for success here and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see him notch double digit assists again at his next stop. After all, he showed off his tremendous vision in what could be his last Orlando match, notching an assist and setting up two other great scoring opportunities in just over half an hour.
If this was his last involvement with the Lions, at least it was a beauty.
Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)
- Greg Ranjitsingh (10/10)
- Santiago Patiño (10/11)
- Danilo Acosta (10/11)
- Alex De John (10/13)
- Robinho (10/14)
- Benji Michel (10/15)
- Mauricio Pereyra (10/16)
- Adam Grinwis (10/17)
- João Moutinho (10/17)
- Shane O’Neill (10/18)
- Dillon Powers (10/18)
- Carlos Ascues (10/22)
- Kyle Smith (10/23)
- Chris Mueller (10/24)
- Kamal Miller (10/25)
- Will Johnson (10/25)
- Cristian Higuita (10/26)
- Uri Rosell (10/27)