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Orlando City midfielder Sacha Kljestan eager to beat New York Red Bulls

Mar 17, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Orlando City midfielder Cristian Higuita (7) kicks the ball as New York City defender Rodney Wallace (23) defends during the first half at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret: Sacha Kljestan really wants to take down the New York Red Bulls.

He said it himself on Tuesday after Orlando City’s training session. The Red Bulls traded Kljestan to Orlando before the start of the season in exchange for Carlos Rivas, Tommy Redding and $150,000 in Targeted Allocation Money.

The two-time MLS assist king will face his former team Saturday at Orlando City Stadium.

It’s a match Kljestan wants to win for a few reasons – the Lions are winless through three matches so far and only have two goals and Kljestan has a chance to square off against former teammates who are still his friends.

“I’m excited,” said Kljestan, who is also making his home debut for the Lions. “I feel good. I’m excited to play. I want to get my first win and even better if it can come against my former team. It’ll be fun to see the guys again. Spent a few good years and have some very good relationships with those guys.

“You always want to win against your friends and your brothers, so yeah, I want to win this game very badly.”

The Lions (0-2-1, 1 point) and the Red Bulls (2-1-0, 6 points) play at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The match will be broadcast on UniMás and streamed on Twitter.

Kljestan’s firsthand knowledge of the Red Bulls could come in handy. In three seasons with the Red Bulls, Kljestan racked up 51 assists to go with 16 goals. He wore the captain’s armband last season for the club.  

“They’re very organized and they have a very good style of play that they stick to and they don’t deviate from,” he said. “We should know what to expect coming in. A lot of pressure, a lot of turnovers, a lot of transition opportunities. We’ve got to be good with the ball and then be good at tracking back when we do turn over the ball because they’re going to want to counter fast.”

He had high praise for goalkeeper Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has three MLS goals so far this season.

“At all times, we’ve got to know where Bradley is,” Kljestan said. “Really, not give him any chances. If he gets a few chances, he usually buries them.”

Center back Amro Tarek he’s been in Kljestan’s ear during training sessions, asking about what to expect from the Red Bulls, who typically press high throughout the match. 

“I asked Sacha a lot about the attacking players, not only Wright-Phillips, and he gave me some advice,” Tarek said. “I know they’re fast, we’ll try to do our best.”

Kljestan’s been working on his connection with the club’s other attacking players. Striker Dom Dwyer is finally set to make his 2018 season debut against the Red Bulls, plus attacking midfielder Josué Colmán is finally healthy. 

Winger-turned-forward Justin Meram, who only recently came back to the club after playing with Iraq’s national team in Basra, Iraq, said it’ll take time for the attacking players to come together. If coach Jason Kreis sticks with his 4-4-2 formation, it’s likely Meram will be paired up top with Dwyer at some point in Saturday’s match. 

“[Dwyer’s] a veteran, I’m a veteran, we have one of the best No. 10s behind us in Sacha, so I think we’ll be all right in that aspect,” Meram said. “We just have to communicate a little bit more and just understand each other’s spacing and where we want to be.” 

The Red Bulls are faced with some lineup decisions heading into Saturday’s match. The club on Wednesday has the first leg of its CONCACAF Champions League semifinal at Chivas de Guadalajara.

Red Bulls coach Jesse March shook off the notion club’s schedule would lead to players being rested for the match against Orlando City.

“We just want to make sure we give ourselves the best chance to get a result on Saturday,” Marsch told Pro Soccer USA reporter Dylan Butler. “And then turn around and are ready to go for a massive two-legged series against a very good Chivas team who is very combative.”

Winning Saturday’s match is first in Kljestan’s mind, but he’ll still likely have some fun with his former teammates. 

With the Red Bulls scheduled to stay in Orlando for a few days before their first leg against Chivas, Kljestan said there will be some time for more friendly catching up after the match.

“I know they’re going to be here for a few days after the game, so they’re trying to plan a pool party at my house for Sunday,” he said. “I hope it’s a fun pool party for me and I hope they’re having a bit of a down day. I hope it’s a win for us.”

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