Sacha Kljestan’s Striker Experiment with New York Red Bulls

HARRISON, NJ - FEBRUARY 22: New York Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan (16) passes during the first half of the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal game between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the New York Red Bulls on February 22, 2017, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The New York Red Bulls began their 2017 MLS regular season with a 2-1 comeback victory at Atlanta United FC this past Sunday, displaying an excellent determination to grind out a result after falling behind. One player that saw his positioning modified throughout the match was midfielder and team captain Sacha Kljestan, occasionally finding himself in a striker role.

Sacha Kljestan’s Striker Experiment with New York Red Bulls

After difficulties implementing the shape full-time last season, New York head coach Jesse Marsch wants to utilize a 4-2-2-2 formation with his side. The attack will see a more central approach moving towards the opposition’s goal, but should still see enough help in the defensive midfield at the other end of the field.

Along with a goalkeeper of Luis Robles’ quality, the approach could certainly see success. The issue, whether due to fitness or form, has been finding an adequate forward pairing with Bradley Wright-Phillips at the top of the line-up.

Argentine designated player Gonzalo Veron has shown great potential in this position, but has once again been plagued by the injury bug. This lead to Marsch using Kljestan higher up the field from time to time Sunday at Atlanta.

The first half saw the US international move around quite often, dropping back deeper as the game wore on. Alex Muyl and Daniel Royer moved higher to pressure Atlanta’s defense, especially after going down 1-0 in the 25th minute.

A magnificent header from Royer after Kljestan’s corner-kick levelled the match, with an unfortunate own-goal for Atlanta giving the Red Bulls all three points on the evening.

While Kljestan’s forward role was not seen throughout the entire encounter, it will be interesting to see if Jesse Marsch looks to him again in the near future.

Control Possession and Accurate Passing

After leading MLS in assists last year, placing Kljestan in a more attacking position could see many positives.

Working within a center-forward role right behind Bradley Wright-Phillips could see the two talents work together to break down the opposition. Kljestan would be able to create space for Wright-Phillips, while his accurate passing could see an increase in the Red Bulls’ amount of goals.

Depending on the team that they are facing each week, this approach may see great success in the final third.

Counter Attacking

Unfortunately, Kljestan’s pace presents problems in a striker position. Within New York’s high-press system, some of the midfielder’s best attributes get lost in the changes.

Winning possession and transitioning into the attack would fall more to Sean Davis and Felipe, as others like Royer or Mike Grella will move forward.

Others within the squad are certainly capable. But with Kljestan’s speed and abilities in the middle of the field, one can see why he drifted deeper as the match against Atlanta shifted to the second half.

Veron’s Injury

The extent of Gonzalo Veron’s injury is unknown at this time, and ultimately the use of Kljestan as a forward may simply have just been a temporary solution.

Veron’s return brings a possibly superb strike partner for Wright-Phillips, especially as the 27-year-old evolves in Marsch’s system.

Sacha Kljestan is a key player for New York’s success in 2017, and it is no surprise that the team wants to see him just about everywhere possible on the field each week.

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