Sacha Kljestan recorded his 12th assist of the season for the New York Red Bulls during the team's dismal 5-2 humbling at the
hands feet of Orlando City. It was, as several of his assists have been this year, a set piece delivery. Kljestan took over free kicks and corners from Felipe Martins partway through this season, and penalty-taking from Bradley Wright-Phillips after the last occasion the team lost at home - the 2-1 loss to Vancouver on June 20, when BWP missed two penalties.
That match was RBNY's fourth loss in a row at the time, and its fifth loss from its first 14 games in MLS. Since then, with Sacha on set-piece duty, the Red Bulls have lost four out of 15 league matches - and won 10. And Sacha Kljestan has scored four goals and tallied 10 assists.
Throw in his goal and assist against the New York Cosmos on July 1, and that is five goals and 11 assists since becoming the team's primary set-piece taker. He has seven goals and 12 assists total for the season.
Sacha's scoring glut isn't entirely down to set-pieces. Four of his seven goals have been penalties; only four of his 12 assists have been from set plays he has initiated (or, in the case of that corner kick routine in Chicago, pretended to initiate).
As one might expect of a new player to a team adjusting to a new tactical plan, he's taken a while to adapt to his surroundings. But until he took over set pieces, Sacha's primary role - despite nominally occupying the hallowed #10 spot in the formation - was not to create goals but to win possession high up the field and connect passes to the more creative attacking threats around him.
Now he also has the responsibility of bringing some creative impetus to the team's set pieces, as well as finishing its opportunities from the penalty spot. The responsibility clearly agrees with him. Coupled with the expected settling-in to his position, Kljestan is now one of RBNY's main channels for goal scoring.
Twelve assists is a top-tier single-season total. The 11 he's tallied in the league rank Kljestan joint-fifth in MLS prior to the start of the league games to be played on Sunday, September 27. Twelve assists also makes him RBNY's leading assist-maker in 2015. But 12 is an especially significant mark in the context of the history of his club: 12 assists in a single season is the joint-fifth best, single-season assist-making record in Red Bulls (and MetroStars) history. And 11 league assists in a single season has only been bested five times by a RBNY player (twice by Thierry Henry).
Only Thierry Henry (19 in 2014 - the club's single-season assists record), Clint Mathis (16 in 2000), Eduardo Hurtado (15 in 1998), and Andy Williams (13 in 2002) have ever done better than 12 in all competitions in a single season for this team. Kljestan is tied with single-season efforts from Mark Chung (2000), Amado Guevara (2003), Thierry Henry (2012), and Mark Lisi (2003).
Put differently, Kljestan has just matched the best assist-making seasons Chung, Lisi and Guevara ever had for this club: three of the top seven goal creators of all time for RBNY. He has also matched the career assist totals for this team by Youri Djorkaeff, Eddie Gaven, and Tim Cahill. And he has created more goals in his first season than Peguy Luyindula (11) managed in his career for RBNY.
Luyindula didn't take free kicks and corners, of course. And every season is a different context. One does not simply look at numbers on a page and infer that one player was better than another. But one can reasonably say that an achievement is remarkable when it compares favorably with the work of some of the team's remarkable players of the past.
Sacha Kljestan's 12 assists in a single season is remarkable achievement for RBNY. He is already having one of the top-10 assist-making years in club history, and he still has five regular season games and at least one playoff match to play. And this is his level of production in a season which he didn't start as the team's primary set-piece taker. He's still two assists shy of his career-best in MLS (he got 13 league assists for Chivas in 2007). Remarkable as this season is already, Kljestan may yet have a little more to offer.
Congrats, Sacha. Looking forward to seeing you tack a few more on to your tally this season before it's over.