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Orlando City GM Niki Budalic talks Sacha Kljestan trade, additional roster moves

After deal that sent homegrown defender Tommy Redding (right) to New York Red Bulls, Orlando City general manager Niki Budalic said more moves are imminent. (Nathan Denette / AP)

Two more pieces of the 2018 roster fell into place for Orlando City this week, and more are likely to follow.

“There will be more announcements this week,” Budalic told the Sentinel hours before a new, three-year contract with striker Dom Dwyer was finalized.

That announcement came on the heels of a trade that brought the league’s assists leader, Sacha Kljestan, to Orlando and sent Colombian forward Carlos Rivas and homegrown defender Tommy Redding to the New York Red Bulls.

Kljestan is a big help in replacing Kaká and Giles Barnes, but the Lions still are looking to bolster their midfield. They’ll also need a centerback to replace Redding, who long was considered a future star for the team.

“That is the plan, yes,” Budalic said when asked if a centerback signing was coming. “We’re still looking to bringing in several players. We’re down the line with each of those positions. This window, a lot of players are in the middle of their seasons in Europe and because of that you can’t speak too soon.”

Orlando City began the offseason with a target list of players inside and outside of the league. Within MLS, they wanted to bring in a player who could instantly transition and be a leader on the team. That’s where Kljestan came in.

“Those were qualities and intangibles…that were really, really important for us — to find someone who will change the mentality in this organization, and he definitely fits the bill, Budalic said, adding that it’s too early to say whether Kljestan will fill the captain role.

Kljestan’s two-game ban, which will be served the first two games of 2018, for an altercation with fellow U.S. men’s national team player Jozy Altidore during the MLS Cup Playoffs did not concern Orlando City at all.

“For us, we want players here that want to win, and sometimes players step over the line, as you saw in that match,” Budalic said. “Unfortunately, he’ll have to face those consequences, but at the end of the day we want players that want to win.”

Still, it was difficult to let go of Rivas and especially Redding, who grew up in Oviedo. Budalic said the two clubs went back and forth discussing various trade options before coming to an agreement.

“Anytime you’re crafting a trade you have to see what’s on the table and what’s not, and those were two players that New York coveted,” Budalic said. “At the end of the day that’s what they pushed for and we got to a point where we accepted it.

“Of course we didn’t want to trade Tommy. It wasn’t that we weren’t happy with him or didn’t want him to be here.”

But Redding was entering his final contract year, the Lions’ coaching staff still was unsure whether he could fill a full-time starting role for them and that would have been increasingly unlikely “with the further moves planned this window,” Budalic said.

“Both players [Rivas and Redding] have shown they can start in this league, so I think it will be a good thing for them to go somewhere where they might get more of an opportunity,” he said.

This transfer window has allowed the club to make the biggest changes since coach Jason Kreis arrived in the summer of 2016, and Budalic hopes to wrap up all offseason moves over the next couple of weeks despite a slow start.

He’ll also be keeping a close eye on young players attending the MLS Player Combine at Orlando City Stadium Jan. 11-17 as the Lions have the No. 6 pick in the Jan. 19 SuperDraft.

“A lot of people were anxious with our lack of activity earlier in the window, but I think everything’s gone according to plan…nothing has gone on that’s been a surprise or changed our strategy,” Budalic said. “I think this group will be much more aligned with the way we want to play and prepare us to take a step forward.”

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