Orlando City acquired New York Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan in exchange for long-time Lions Carlos Rivas and Tommy Redding Tuesday, a source confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel.
The blockbuster deal long rumored and first reported in detail by ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle brings in a high profile midfielder who will go a long way in offsetting the loss of Kaká, the Lions’ captain who retired at the end of the 2017 season.
Kljestan, 32, has led MLS in assists and chances during the past two seasons and was a 2016 MVP candidate. The U.S. men’s national team standout will join the Lions on a two-year deal.
In addition to the player moves, the Red Bulls will send Orlando City $150,000 in targeted allocation money.
The trade is still pending league approval and should be finalized in the coming days, according to Orlando City director of communications Jacklyne Ramos.
The Lions were slated to make up to 14 player transactions ahead of the 2018 season and other moves will help dictate whether Kljestan is added as a designated player.
Rivas was a young designated player for Orlando City who showed considerable potential and rocket leg strength, but the Colombian striker struggled to find a regular spot in the lineup to get on a steady scoring clip.
Redding, who grew up in Oviedo, shined on the U.S. U-21 national team and was long considered a future star at centerback. He battled injury issues and inexperience during the past few seasons.
Kljestan doesn’t come without a bit of controversy. The midfielder is aggressive battling for possession and got into an altercation with Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore and stadium security during the 2017 MLS playoffs. Following an MLS review of the incident, Kljestan was suspended for the first two games of the 2018 season. The penalty will delay his debut with Orlando City.
But that same fire has helped Kljestan become the most prolific playmaker in MLS, consistently setting up his teammates for goals.
He could help Orlando City resolve its long-time issues finishing in the final third despite boasting a variety of scoring threats.
His deft touch should help boost the production of striker Dom Dwyer, whose contract will soon expire but Orlando City’s front office is confident it will reach a deal with him.
Kljestan also would pair well with forward Cyle Larin, who is seeking a transfer to Europe but is still tied to Orlando City’s roster until the club officials say they get a strong offer for him.
And the assists should also forward Stéfano Pinho, an elite North American Soccer League scorer the Lions signed recently.
Orlando City previously added Libyan defender Mohamed El-Munir, L.A. Galaxy midfielder Jose Villarreal and New York City FC defender RJ Allen. The Lions also reached a new deal with midfielder Dillon Powers.
The Lions made extensive roster cuts to make room for new players expected to help coach Jason Kreis lead the club to its first MLS playoff appearance.
Defensive midfielders Antonio Nocerino and Servando Carrasco had their options declined, and L.A. Galaxy picked up the rights to negotiate a new deal with Carrasco in the MLS Re-Entry Draft. The team also declined to pick up the option for forward Giles Barnes.
The following returning players remain under contract: midfielders Will Johnson, Pierre Da Silva and Yoshimar Yotún; defenders José Aja, Victor “PC” Giro, Jonathan Spector, Scott Sutter and Donny Toia; and goalkeepers Joe Bendik and Mason Stajduhar.
The following returning Lions had their options exercised: forwards Dwyer, Larin and Richie Laryea; midfielders Cristian Higuita and Tony Rocha; defender Rafael Ramos; and goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr.