If the soccer field is the battleground, then the midfield could best be described as the trenches. Most games are decided by which team controls the midfield most effectively. The respective beginnings to the 2015 season for the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC can be directly attributed to the successes or failures of each team's midfield partnerships.
The Red Bulls are off to a very respectable start: only one loss in their first eight games. This success is due, in large part, to the three-headed midfield monster that is Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan, and Felipe Martins. On the opposite side of the spectrum, NYCFC are off to a sub-optimal, six-points-in-nine games opening run which can partially be credited to an inconsistent midfield.
These two contrasting midfields will line up against each other on Sunday, May 10. And at the center of each should be two of the bigger signings of each team's off-season.
When Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan each signed with MLS, most American soccer fans viewed it positively. For the better part of the last three years these two midfielders have been jockeying for position on the U.S. Men's National Team depth chart and performing at the club level in Europe. Kljestan--playing in the Champions League with Anderlecht--seemed to always get snubbed, while Diskerud--who played in the Norwegian Tippeligaen--enjoyed international success. With every roster release, fans and media could compare the two, often left wondering why Kljestan was left out in the cold.
Now that both players play in the same league, we can study and evaluate who is actually better and more deserving of a USMNT call-up. Only two and a half months into the MLS season, it is difficult to call either player or team the final product. It is a long way to playoff-time. However, we've seen enough throughout their careers and through the start of this season to make some initial observations.
(^I made that. I'm so awesome.)
In my opinion, technical ability is the most important facet of any soccer player's repertoire. If a player has a great first touch and can pick out the right pass, they will go far in their career. Mix excels in this area. It is arguably the strongest ability he possesses. His first touch is delicate and his passing ability is precise, over both short and long distances. By comparison, this area of the game is a weakness for Kljestan. His first touch leaves much to be desired, while his passing can be inconsistent. Advantage: Mix
Build-up in the sport of soccer is fundamental. However, build-up means nothing if the team can't produce the final pass and finish. Being dynamic in the final third is crucial to producing attacking soccer. Sacha has been put in a great situation for the Red Bulls. He has the freedom to wander forward whenever he pleases and he takes advantage of this often. With two goals and eighteen shots in only eight games, Kljestan demonstrates his dynamism for the Red Bulls.
Mix on the other hand, is forced to play a holding role for the majority of his time with NYC FC, and is less involved in the final product. He has scored one goal and attempted eleven shots, of which most have been speculative long range efforts, Mix is somewhat ineffective in the final third. Is Mix being held back by his teammates whereas Sacha is being given greater opportunities due to playing for a better team? Yes, but Kljestan must be given credit for taking advantage of the tools he's been given. Advantage: Sacha
Mix and Sacha are both box-to-box midfielders. This is their natural position and where they both would play in a perfect world. Work rate is extremely important for this particular role. A player must be able to attack when needed and also track back on defense. Sacha has always had a great motor. He's constantly moving into the right spaces for ninety minutes. Mix has had to work hard on transitioning from a finesse player to a complete midfielder. Over the last few years, however, he's developed a phenomenal work rate to add to his skill set. Advantage: Push
These two are very similar players asked to play completely different roles for their clubs. Sacha has adapted to his new attacking responsibilities well under Jesse Marsch. He has become one of the focal points of the Red Bulls attack.
Mix has looked confused and lost while being deployed as a holding midfielder early in the season. The NYCFC midfield lacks chemistry and a basic understanding of what role each player plays.
Looking at the bigger picture, Mix is a finesse player who's technical ability is superb. Sacha is a great leader with nice versatility. It's hard to say one player is better than other. They are comparable but extremly different. It all comes down to personal preference and what your team is looking for in a midfielder. Advantage: Push