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NYCFC braces for return of Sacha Kljestan when Orlando City visits

New Orlando City players Justin Meram and Sacha Kljestan will team together for the first time on Saturday against NYCFC. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel)

New York City FC will host its 2015 expansion rival Orlando City SC this week.

With Orlando City comes playmaker Sacha Kljestan, whose 10 career assists against NYCFC are the most of any active player against one MLS team, according to data provided by Opta. Kljestan notched those assists as a member of the New York Red Bulls, who traded him to Orlando during the offseason for striker Carlos Rivas and defender Tommy Redding. 

He’ll debut for his new team in Saturday’s match at Yankee Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:55 p.m. EST.

“I believe that they are one of the teams who can win the league because of the investment they made during the season and the quality of the players that they have,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said of the opponent. 

“It will be a different team than the last two games. They have been unlucky at times and may have deserved to get more than they got.”

For the first time in franchise history, NYCFC is 2-0 to begin the season. Meanwhile, Orlando City has one point from two home matches.

In Week 1, Orlando City defender Victor “PC” Giro received a straight red card from referee Fotis Bazakos in the 41st minute with his side trailing D.C. United, 1-0.  Despite the disadvantage, the Lions came out as the superior team in the second half and earned a 1-1 draw on Stefano Pinho’s stoppage-time equalizer.

In Week 2, Adrian Heath returned to Orlando for the first time since his dismissal as head coach to guide Minnesota United past the Lions and his replacement, Jason Kreis, 2-1. That was Orlando City’s second match without the suspended Sacha Kljestan and injured striker Dom Dwyer.

Dwyer likely will not return until the end of the month, but Kljestan is ready to go.

“I was brought in here to do a job and I know they gave up a lot to bring me here.” Kljestan said. “None of that weighs on me as much as the pressure I put on myself.”

Without Kljestan, Orlando City lacked quality in the final third since it had to use players out of position because there wasn’t another healthy No. 10, according to Kreis. 

“It’s really difficult for the manager when you have suspensions or injuries,” Vieira said. “They haven’t managed to play their best XI yet so its really difficult to have an idea about the team. I know it’s a very dangerous team – [Justin] Meram brings something special.”

Meram’s last goal against NYCFC came in the first leg of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals when he played for the Columbus Crew.

“Justin will be one of the happiest players to have Sacha added in there,” said Kreis, who will return to Yankee Stadium for the second time since NYCFC fired him after failing to make the playoffs in the club’s inaugural year.

Under Vieira, who supplanted Kreis in 2016, NYCFC has constructed back-to-back playoff appearances. Only five players remain from the roster Kreis procured a year and a half ago.

Kreis now is under pressure to produce Orlando City’s first postseason berth in the fourth year of the franchise.

This will be the first of three meetings between the Eastern Conference foes in 2018. Orlando City leads the all-time series 5-2-2. 

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