Sacha Kljestan

Orlando City SC 2019 Season Preview by Ian L.

It was the worst of times. 2018 is a year that Orlando City fans could forget if it didn’t make up 25% of the team’s MLS existence. No, the dull scab of mediocrity that Orlando had become finally broke sometime in April of last year and the rest of the league was there to season aggressively with rock salt. Jason Kreis was dismissed, and while that was indeed understandable, James O’Connor’s task of righting a sinking ship has now unfortunately shifted into excavating a wreck. In a league that has had no shortage of underachievers in its youth and adolescence, Orlando’s 2018 was a special kind of dark comedy. They stepped on every conceivable rake, went out, purchased several new rakes at great expense, and then stepped on all of those as well.

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Orlando, DC, and MLS' Latest Strategic Fashions by Kevin Minkus

The press (whether high, counter, or other) is in vogue in MLS. MLS teams are, on average, they pressiest they’ve ever been. The Red Bulls, NYCFC, Atlanta, and New England all primarily defend in some form of press. A handful of other teams - Sporting Kansas City and LAFC most prominently - go to it on occasion. Orlando City began the season trying to play a higher pressure defense:

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Setting the Table Week 21: Villalba, Edwards, and Rzatkowski by Eric Walcott

Welcome to Setting the Table. Each week we take some time to focus on the best chance creators in MLS from the last weekend. If you want to see the best chances that were wasted check out Lowered Expectations. Here we focus on chances that ended with the ball in the back of the net.

#5 Hector Villalba to Josef Martinez, Atlanta United, 30th minute, 0.434 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 4

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Lowered Expectations: Week 9 by Harrison Crow

Welcome to Lowered Expectations, the week nine edition! Each week, we go about posting chalkboards and GIFs of the weekend’s best open-play shot attempts that did not quite live up to expectations (and rarely do we update this paragraph). We look at each one and not only evaluate the results, but also the process that led to them.

#5 -  Mac Steeves, Houston Dynamo, 91st minute, 0.463 expected goals
Assisted by: Andrew Wenger
Passes in sequence: 2

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New York Red Bulls 2018 Season Preview by Benjamin Bellman

Whatever your opinions of the New York Red Bulls might be, you can’t accuse them of being boring. For the past three MLS seasons, the Red Bulls have consistently been one of the best attacking teams as measured by xG, ranking first in 2015, fifth in 2016, and third in 2017. But the real drama seems to happen off the field, and this winter was no different. Previously, after the 2016 season, Jesse Marsch pulled a power move over Ali Curtis, the man who controversially booted team legend Mike Petke to hire him, and traded team captain Dax McCarty to the Chicago Fire. Now he’s done it again, trading team captain and MLS assist master Sacha Kljestan to Orlando City. Throw in what was the most confirmed unconfirmed signing in memory, and you've got a recipe for some kind of 2018. Strap in, New York/New Jersey, it’s gonna be a wild one.


In some ways, 2017 was slightly disappointing for Red Bulls fans compared to their 2016 success. After claiming first in the East in 2016 with 57 points, the Red Bulls landed in sixth in the East with 50 points without McCarty marshaling the midfield. In the beginning of the season, the trade seemed to cause problems and the Red Bulls lost six of their first 12 games. But the team got hot in the summer, notably winning every game they played in July, and despite going 0-3-5 between August 18 and September 30, they managed to hang onto a playoff berth. And while NYRB dropped some points during the regular season, they showed their true stripes in the postseason. First, they absolutely crushed McCarty’s Fire 4-0 in Chicago, and then they pushed the Greatest MLS Team Ever to the brink, falling to Toronto 2-2 on aggregate based on the away goals rule. While the season was ultimately successful, fans remember the shaky spring, and they will certainly expect more playoffs (and ultimately improvement) if they are to accept that trading Kljestan was the right thing to do.

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Orlando City SC 2018 Season Preview by ExiledMLS

Orlando City has rebuilt their roster with several blockbuster trades and signings this off-season. As they embark on their 4th MLS season, they finally look like a playoff-caliber team.

2017 in review

Orlando City came out of the gate guns blazing last March. The Lions started with a 7-1-0 record before things fell apart, and finished with a 10-15-9 record overall. Yes, that’s right. After starting the 2017 season with the strongest record in the league, Orlando City managed to secure just 3 more wins across the remaining 26 games. Curiously, their fall from grace apparently started in Week Eight, which is when former Ballon d’Or winner Kaka returned from injury and was re-inserted back into the lineup. It is both inaccurate and unfair to pin Orlando City’s poor 2017 season on him alone, because they had issues all over the field. But when a $7.1 million per year Designated Player can’t raise the level of a team, he is either past his prime or the team has far more problems besides him. For Orlando City in 2017, both were true.

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New York Red Bulls 2017 Season Preview by Coleman Larned

The 2016 season culminated in yet another MLS playoff exit for New York Red Bull. A furious pace was set in the regular season galloping towards playoffs and finishing second in the supporter's shield. But Jesse Marsch and RBNY came up short. The team identity was in place, the intended peak timing was set and the squad was healthy. But once again the cup rewarded opportunism over exacted intention.

The addition of Aurelian Collin and the internal promotion of Alex Muyl were the key additions to the squad that ended the season top of the Eastern Conference. Another season with the same core group allowed for Marsch's high, energetic press to steep and refine. After a miserable start to the campaign which saw them take three points from a possible 21, RBNY proceeded to lose only three more games all season.

The usual suspects were some of the league's best throughout the year. Bradley Wright-Phillips won golden boot on 62 fewer shots than the second place finisher, David Villa. Dax McCarty once again dictated one of the league's best offenses by averaging 68 passes per 90 minutes (fifth best in league for players who played at least half of the games in the regular season). The defense allowed the second fewest goals against in the Eastern Conference, allowing for the best goal differential in MLS. But it was the year of Sacha Kljestan in Harrison, NJ. While sporting a disconnected pirate goatee Kljestan connected phases of possession and controlled territory in the offensive third of the pitch better than anyone in MLS. He led the league in key passes (105), assists (16), and expected assists (9.97) while ranking second in total passes (1723) by an attacking midfielder.

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A Tactical Analysis of NYRB's 3-2 Win over OCSC by Coleman Larned

After starting the 2016 MLS season 1-0-6, New York Red Bulls earned a deserved victory at home against Orlando City SC. Although the 3-2 scoreline doesn't suggest domination, RBNY controlled the tempo for the majority of the game, after having to shake off and compensate for an early 3' Kyle Larin goal. The victory was confirmation of something our expected goals numbers have been saying all season – NYRB have gotten very unlucky with their finishing, having converted almost 13 fewer goals than they should have expected.

More after the jump.

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The Red Bulls have consistently been a team stuck in disarray and chaos. They have a front office that has been raked over the coals time and again for choices that were just plain bewildering. Take all of that and couple it with a foreign ownership group/organization that seemingly feels detatched all the time. Yet there has probably been no better period in the Red Bulls 20-year history. With two Supporter Shields in three seasons and a team that position for position is ready to compete for another, things could get exciting, folks.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves... More after the jump.

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MLS Roster Rules: The Thorough Examination of A Discovery Claim by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Two nights ago we burned some midnight oil and recorded our latest podcast talking about changes being made with the release of the new MLS roster rules. Leave it to Bruce Arena to act on these things the very next day.

Ives Galarcep and broke down the story and provided most pertinent details as former US youth international and“West Ham” (mostly seeing time on the reserve squad) midfielder, Sebastian Lletget, is “set to sign” with LA Galaxy. Additionally, if the article is correct, the New England Revolution had a discovery claim on him and will receive $50,000 in allocation compensation as a result.

You may be asking yourself “why does this matter?”, and it's a good question. I think it’s important to highlight a few interesting pieces of information as a result of this maneuver we now understand a bit better.

1. Bruce Arena continues to use the mechanisms at his disposal.

First understand there is only one mechanism at play. Lletget, despite being a former member of the US U-23’s, wasn't acknowledged with the allocation roster, making the attacking midfielder free game for discovery lists, which is where this business with New England enters. The Revolution received a $50,000 allocation because they submitted their bingo card discovery list correctly (I can’t imagine what they’d do with another attacking midfielder).

This isn't anywhere close to New York giving up Eric Alexander and Ambroise Oyongo for the rights to Sascha Kljestan and the reclamation project Felipe Martins (seriously, what a freakin’ coup). We don’t’ know what percent of their allocation budget LA gave up for him, but $50,000 in allocation relative to the total budget or salary cap isn't much. When you consider the minimum youth contract is now $60,000 for a roster spot of player 18-25 it further puts things in positive perspective.

Additionally, we now have some sort of idea how these discovery claims will work too. It’s not as if we didn't have an idea of how this worked before, but it brings more transparency to the process and how it might continue to work in the future relative to these types of situations.

The questions continually ringing in my head are as follows; does this mean LA Galaxy could only sign him because he was on their discovery list? Did they have had to submit a discovery claim on him before signing him? Lastly, if LA used a discovery claim on him does mean they only have six left or do they now gain back a spot Lletget once occupied on their claim list?

These are mostly all questions which are not helpful and ones having little real bearing in the long run. We have no idea of how to answer any of them and we’ll probably never really get straight answers on it but there are interesting thoughts that, if patient, we may see indications in the future.

2. New England randomly gains an additional $50,000 in allocation

As I already mentioned, New England gets paid for pretty much just putting the right guy on the list. Unless they think this off-season they’re going to get reasonable bid offers for Kelyn Rowe or they aren't willing to reward Lee Nguyen with a designated player contract (yep, I believe it’s going to be a thing), then Lletget probably wasn’t going to be of any use to them. They also still have Steve Neumann (picked fourth overall in 2014 MLS Superdraft) who has largely been an afterthought during his short MLS tenure and could also potentially fit into an attacking midfield role.

LA got a good deal, dispensing little in compensation compared to what other teams have surrendered in the past. This wasn't completely one sided as New England also benefited on the fact it had little immediate use for the attacking midfielder and have time to replace him on their discovery lists while earning a bit of monopoly money in the process.

3. There are still US players on the market not listed in the allocation roster.

During the podcast we referenced the subjective nature involved in identifying those on the allocation roster and those who were not mentioned. Three that did not make the list are Alfredo Morales, Will Packwood and Zarek Valentine.

Morales still with FC Ingolstadt 04 in German Division II soccer and could be an interesting snag for a few different MLS teams that need a boast to their central midfield or depth out wide.

Packwood is currently training with New England and could sign soon. The $50,000 discovery claim allocation payment for Lletget should come close to covering the majority of his salary which just makes things seem that much better for New England.

Valentin is an interesting one as he left MLS at the end of his Generation Adidas contract for Norway, but since joining FK Bodø/Glimt it would seem that he’s been challenged for time on the pitch. Mind you I don’t know a lot about what’s going on in Norway and some of that might be due to injuries but he could be sly candidate for a return to MLS.