For the past several seasons, the New York Red Bulls have been working to get younger. Throughout that process, though, the club has made several tough decisions. They made another recently by moving the team’s captain for the second straight season in a move that seemingly fits for all involved.
ESPN broke the news on Tuesday that the Red Bulls were shipping Sacha Kljestan to Orlando City alongside a helping of TAM. In return, the club adds a pair of young pieces in Tommy Redding and Carlos Rivas.
For Orlando City, the move is a relative no-brainer. With Kaka out of the picture, the team is in need of a No. 10, and Kljestan has been one of the best statistical playmakers since his return to MLS. Numbers don’t lie, and Kljestan’s 51 assists over three seasons are impressive no matter which way you slice it.
Obviously, Orlando still has a lot to figure out this offseason, especially with regards to Cyle Larin’s future. If Larin does stay in the fold, the prospect of Kljestan dishing out passes to the Canadian star and strike-partner Dom Dwyer is an enticing one. In theory, the acquisition gives Orlando City a consistent playmaking presence, something the club lacked last season due to Kaka’s occasional absences. Add in the $150,000 in Targeted Allocation Money and Orlando City have a piece for a rebuild and money to help fund additional moves.
For the Red Bulls, the move is business as usual. Kljestan’s value was never going to be higher than it is right now. The midfielder recently turned 32 and his current level of production will not last forever. The Red Bulls are known as a club that buys low and sells high no matter the emotional tug, as evidenced by the Dax McCarty move last summer.
In return, the Red Bulls bring in two pieces that still need a lot of polish. Redding has long been one of the brighter defensive prospects among the U.S. Youth National Teams and was a key part of the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team’s run at the U-20 World Cup last summer. He started last season well enough as Orlando surged to open the campaign, but eventually his appearances became more sporadic as the Lions fell apart. At just 20 years old, Redding has a ton of upside, making him a perfect partner alongside fellow young defender Aaron Long in the heart of the Red Bulls’ defense.
Rivas is a bit more tricky but, at 23, the winger still has time to figure it out. His finishing is often criticized and his production has not been up to the level of a Young Designated Player. However, Rivas is a player that has the skill and athleticism to be a productive player in MLS, even if those traits are displayed all too inconsistently. From what we’ve seen, Rivas may never be an All-Star, but he does have the ability to be a productive piece.
The Red Bulls aren’t expected to sit back now that this trade is over. The club has been linked with several big-money moves for South American stars after clearing out Kljestan’s contract and that of Designated Player Gonzalo Veron. They’ve been linked with Huracan attacker Alejandro Romero Gamarra, showing a willingness to spend on a transfer fee that hasn’t been seen in recent years. Change is coming to Red Bull Arena as the club can’t afford to stand pat with its current squad as other Eastern Conference sides reload and retool.
The same can be said for Orlando City. The core of Larin, Dwyer and Kljestan forms a potent attack while pieces like Jonathan Spector and Yoshi Yotun help form a solid spine. There are still needs in the midfield and defense but, with several DP spots to work with, Orlando City is in for a busy winter.
Overall, it’s a move that makes sense for both parties. Orlando City reloads with a valuable piece immediately while offering up two players that simply did not get better in 2017. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls bring in two players in need of a scenery change while clearing space for a big move of their own.
The big winner won’t be decided for a while and we won’t be fully sure who benefits most until we see how each team built around Wednesday’s move. At least on the surface, the trade sets both clubs up with a chance to get better for the 2018 campaign.