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LA Galaxy nudges ahead of New York Red Bulls in race to sign Sacha Kljestan

Another twist in the Sacha Kljestan transfer chase...

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

January 15, 2015 was a good news/bad news day for the New York Red Bulls. The good news: draft picks! RBNY picked up the best player on the board, Leo Stolz, in the first round - it would seem because no one else knew he was available. That's not just good draft work, it's also a tad cunning. In the second round, Stefano Bonomo, a target forward with a little work to do on his game, by the sound of things. Solid pick-up in a position of need for RBNY, but where the starter(s? - There are suggestions Tim Cahill isn't entirely out the door) are well established.

So not a bad day's work at the draft. Well done, Jesse Marsch and company.

As for the bad news...

Either Jozy Altidore is signing for Toronto FC imminently, or the Red Bulls are going to have a banner day by announcing the return of homegrown hero and achieving the utter humiliation of a conference rival that got over-excited about a deal that wasn't done. Unfortunately, there's little reason to believe in the latter scenario. Jozy looks very much like a Toronto player.

More bad news: LA Galaxy has traded up the allocation order, not so quietly either, in a move that looks an awful lot like the precursor to signing Sacha Kljestan.

The Galaxy has long been reported to be in the Kljestan race, and its particular advantage is that it would have signed him on loan him in 2014 but the league intervened and nixed the deal (said Bruce Arena, for which he was fined). The other major contenders - RBNY and the Phildadelphia Union - have former teammates of Kljestan installed as their respective head coaches (the Red Bulls' Jesse Marsch and Philly's Jim Curtin played with him at Chivas USA).

Kljestan, who was born in California's Orange County, may have chosen LA.

The evidence is circumstantial, but hard to ignore. First, Kljestan is assumed to be going through the allocation order because MLS has rekindled its enthusiasm for that particular mechanism for dispensing returning USMNT players to its teams. LA has traded up to a high position in the allocation order.

What's that? Yes, the Galaxy traded with Colorado, currently third. That means Montreal or San Jose could grab Kljestan, or another club could do a deal and take a higher spot than LA. The Galaxy may have made a huge mistake if it didn't check in with Montreal and San Jose first, to ensure they weren't trading up for nothing at all.

Since the Galaxy traded for third, we can assume the Galaxy is confident whomever it is targeting will be available to the team in third. Especially when you consider what the Galaxy gave to the Rapids: Marcelo Sarvas and an international roster spot. In exchange, LA got that third place in the allocation ranking and allocation money.

Sending Sarvas and an international roster spot to the Rapids creates a hole in the Galaxy's squad: a hole shaped like a starting-caliber midfielder who doesn't take up the international spot they just gave away. As it happens, Sacha Kljestan is an American-born midfielder who can be reasonably expected to be a high-level performer in MLS.

Oh - and the Galaxy got allocation money, which can be applied to buying down a high-salaried player's cap hit to below the Designated Player cut-off, thereby following the example set (we think) by NYC FC in its signing of Mix Diskerud.

Now, trading Sarvas could be interpreted as making room for Steven Gerrard, who will arrive in LA mid-season. But dropping a guy you appear to need right now for one who isn't coming for several months (and who knows if he will be fit to play right away) is a rash move; nor does Steven Gerrard explain why the Galaxy traded for a better allocation ranking position - not required for Gerrard.

What LA does need is a midfielder of proven quality, with a little more in his legs than Gerrard might have left, who is available right now. And, if that player is to be Kljestan and he is to be paid a DP-salary, then LA also needs some way of fitting four DPs onto its roster (Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez being the two currently under contract and available to play from opening day of 2015).

Where does this leave RBNY? Potentially looking at not getting Kljestan, just like it is looking at not getting Altidore.

It is entirely possible that Bruce Arena has recklessly bet the farm on the Red Bulls not being able to get a deal done with Montreal or San Jose, or that the Galaxy are chasing another target entirely. Indeed, it should be remembered the Galaxy has made confident trades to get in position to sign Kljestan in the past - and failed. Bruce Arena is not infallible.

But there was one more move made on January 15 that adds to the impression Kljestan isn't going to be suiting up in the red and white: picking up Leo Stolz in the draft. The 2014 Hermann trophy winner isn't a surefire starter like Kljestan, nor exactly the same type of player necessarily, but he is another central midfield option for squad that has ample depth in that position.

We don't yet know much of anything about Jesse Marsch's tactical plans or preferences, but he is surely approaching maximum depth for the central midfield (he has Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander, Ian Christianson, Michael Bustamante, Peguy Luyindula, and Sean Davis right now; plus Stolz, if signed; plus Connor Lade and Tim Cahill, if so desired).

Some of the existing squad will almost inevitably be traded or cut by opening day. Marsch is not Mike Petke, he will have his own ideas about who fits the squad's needs. And the team can make any move it wants or needs in order to sign a new player, just like LA Galaxy just did.

But when comparing LA Galaxy and RBNY in the race for Sacha Kljestan right now: one of those teams has the space and means to sign a high-profile midfielder, and the other does not. Advantage Galaxy.

That said, the race isn't over yet. Seattle was reported to have made an inquiry to Montreal regarding a possible trade for the number one spot in the allocation order in order to nab Kljestan.

And as far as we know, that deal isn't done and L'Impact may still be open to offers.

RBNY would appear to have the time and opportunity to get a jump on LA and nab Kljestan. Today's draft raises a different question: does the club really want him?