New York Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan (pictured) speaks to the media after a Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League win over visiting Alianza on September 15, 2016, in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo: Mexsport)
HARRISON, New Jersey -- Over a two-week period, Sacha Kljestan not only has played well for two teams in two competitions, he made a major impact.
In a pair of FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the veteran midfielder scored two and set-up two others in United States wins over St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago. Those two victories vaulted the Americans into the CONCACAF hexagonal.
On Thursday night, Kljestan came off the bench and scored a 90th-minute goal to give the New York Red Bulls a 1-0 Group F triumph over Alianza (0W-2D-1L, 2 points) in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League.
The 31-year-old replaced Tyler Adams, 17, in the 62nd minute to change the pace of the match. He did much more than that.
"He just slows things down for us in the attacking part of the field," said Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch. "He has such an ease to the way he plays. He makes the game look so fluid and easy. It's an unusual characteristic. Not too many players have it and he just has that savviness, that ability. I thought he helped right away."
The Red Bulls (2-1-0, 7) are on the verge of clinching a quarterfinal berth, which can be secured with as little as a draw at Antigua GFC (0-1-1, 1) on September 27.
"We take maximum points out at home, which is all you can ask for," Kljestan commented. "We put ourselves in a good position to put us into the next round. It's important. We want to make the quarterfinals. That was a big goal at the beginning of the season. Right now we've got one foot in the door and I'm pretty happy."
Alianza head coach Milton Melendez lamented his team’s elimination from contention after going winless in its first three games. An encounter at Antigua on October 18 remains on the schedule.
"We know this is a great team with great players that play on the national team," he said through an interpreter at the post-game press conference. "We knew what we came for. We knew this would be a really hard game. We had options in the first game to beat them in El Salvador, but unfortunately we couldn't."