Sacha Kljestan's first season as captain of the New York Red Bulls is off to a rough start. The team has played two games since he took over the armband from Dax McCarty, and it has yet to win. A 1-1 draw at Red Bull Arena followed by a 2-0 humbling in Vancouver adds up to a disappointing exit from the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League at the quarterfinal stage.
Early days yet, to be sure, but Captain Kljestan has yet to lead his team to victory - and he hasn't even been able to wear his new armband.
CCL regulations appear to require team captains wear CCL-issued armbands, so Sacha's customized captaincy-wear will have to wait until MLS kicks off for RBNY against Atlanta United on March 5. But Kljestan has chosen to turn his armband into a tribute to the club's fans. The three Supporters' Groups of Red Bull Arena's South Ward will be honored by the team's captain this year. Not every RBNY fan is a member of the South Ward, but the South Ward is emblematic of every RBNY fan: Kljestan's armband is a salute to all Red Bulls fans.
So it was particularly unfortunate, perhaps, that a captain who has gone out of his way to honor his team's supporters would not go out of his way to thank them for traveling a few thousand miles to watch their team get dumped out of CCL.
To err is human. Players don't like to lose and RBNY was losing in Vancouver from the 5th minute. Clearly, some RBNY players were too unhappy with the result against the Whitecaps to focus on anything but getting off the field and out of town as quickly as possible.
We all make mistakes, but we don't all have jobs that include having our mistakes routinely analyzed and dissected and passed around all over Twitter and Facebook. Everyone comes up short at work on occasion, but not everyone's failures are #content.
But for a pro soccer player, such scrutiny comes with the territory. Kljestan is a veteran who knows that territory very well. And if he didn't understand the value of acknowledging his team's fans, he'd never have asked for that armband to be made for this season.
The Captain sets the tone for the team. Where he leads, others will follow. In victory or defeat, the fans are asked to turn out and cheer. Those that do, on occasion, are deserving of acknowledgement for their effort. A mid-week trip to Vancouver is one of those occasions.
Kljestan's armband would seem a hollow tribute before it had even made its debut on the field if it was clear RBNY was under the leadership of a fairweather captain this season. After all, it's the shared disappointment that makes shared triumph significant. Endure the lows and the highs will be that much higher, is the promise made to all sports fans.
Kljestan made a mistake. Fortunately, he was quick to correct it.
We all make mistakes. And this one is between RBNY's captain and the supporters who went to Canada to watch him and the team. But credit Captain Kljestan for acting quickly to address the fans he snubbed in Vancouver.
Sacha Kljestan's statement in full, per the Empire Supporters Club:
Sorry guys. I left the field in frustration tonight and forgot to salute you all for supporting us and making the long trip. I hope you know I put my whole heart and effort into this club, and your guys' devotion to this club is not unnoticed, especially by me. None of the criticism, even by our own fans will deter me from my goal to win as many games as possible and ultimately MLS Cup. I hope you accept my apology for tonight, it won't happen again. Thank you.