What has happened to Sacha Kljestan?

Sacha Kljestan 1 (ISIphotos.com) 

                                                                         Photo by ISIphotos.com

 

by GIANFRANCO PANIZO

The start of year couldn't have gone much better for Sacha Kljestan.

After being named the 2008 U.S. Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year award, Kljestan trained with and drew interest from Scottish giants Celtic and then scored a hat-trick in a 3-2 win against Sweden in January at the Home Depot Center. He was riding high and looked poised for a breakout 2009.

Things haven't quite worked out that way.

In the three months since his hat-trick vs. Sweden, Kljestan has lost his starting job with the national team and gotten off to a sluggish start in MLS. He has yet to record a goal or assist for Chivas USA and last week he was benched during a Chivas USA match for what head coach Preki called a lack of sharpness.

So how did Kljestan go from budding national team star to slumping youngster? Following his impressive three goal performance versus Sweden, a short-haired Kljestan started in the center of the field next to Michael Bradley as the United States opened up their final round of World Cup qualifying against Mexico on February 11. Although he did not play poorly, Kljestan, who is known for his offensive creativity, added little offensively and was stronger on the defensive side of the ball in the 2-0 victory.

In his next national team outing, a start at El Salvador on March 28, Kljestan had one of his worst performances in a U.S jersey. In front of the hostile crowd at the Estadio Cuscatlan, Kljestan committed repeated turnovers and failed to create much in the attack. With the U.S. trailing 2-0 late, head coach Bob Bradley decided to replace him in the 71st minute in favor of midfielder Jose Francisco Torres. The U.S team went on to salvage a draw, scoring two goals in the final 15 minutes to level the score.

Three days later, Kljestan found himself starting on the bench when the U.S. team faced Trinidad & Tobago. After having been a regular starter, Kljestan was limited to a six-minute cameo appearance in a match the United States was already winning, 2-0.

Kljestan's struggles with the national team have carried over to the club level. While Chivas USA is off to a great start, Kljestan has yet to score or notch an assist in Chivas' first seven games of the season.

Chivas USA head coach Preki yanked the 23-year-old in the 64th minute of their latest game, a 2-0 win over FC Dallas on Sunday.

"I didn't think he was particularly sharp," Preki told the L.A. Daily News. "It's just locker room stuff. We'll talk about it and see if we can help. It should be a big concern for him – not for me."

So what is wrong with Kljestan? He could be distracted by what will likely be a summer transfer to Europe. Kljestan could also be burned out after a busy past 12 months that have included heavy action with the U.S. national team, the Olympics and his play with Chivas USA.

Whatever it is, Kljestan will need to rebound quickly if he will play a key role in the U.S. national team's busy summer schedule, a schedule he seemed destined to be a major player in back in January, when he was riding sky high and playing his best soccer.

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What do you think is the cause of Kljestan's 2009 woes? Is he looking to move out of MLS? Is it just an untimely bad few months? Do you think him cutting his hair cost him to lose his mojo?

Share your thoughts below.

This entry was posted in Major League Soccer, MLS- Chivas USA, U.S. Men's National Team. Bookmark the permalink.

61 Responses to What has happened to Sacha Kljestan?

  1. galaticos says:

    Samson 2.0

  2. EDB says:

    Juan Toja syndrome mixed with twellman i would guess.. you have a decent club make a good bid for you, you want to go and the league makes you stay because they want more money. Its got to be a blow.

  3. john in atl says:

    It’s definitely the haircut.

  4. MikeK says:

    It’s like this… His trial with Celtic, it was like dieing and going to heaven. After it didn’t work out and he had to return to earth, he’s not the same because he knows that he almost signed for the best football club in the world.

  5. Jacob A. says:

    I think it’s a combination of Mike’s and John’s opinions.

  6. Mike says:

    He sucks.

    End of.

  7. sonicdeathmonkey says:

    He’s “pulling a Toja”. (Btw, if that phrase takes off, I want full credit.) ;)

  8. ELAC says:

    Some of us Chivas USA fans have noticed a dropoff in Sacha since he came back from the Olympics in 2008.

    Be it physical or mental, he is not himself. He missed a valuable pk against FC Tauro that might have put Chivas USA in the next round of the Champions League. His downfall began in 2008. At least while wearing the red/white/blue of Chivas USA.

    His indifference has also been an issue. I’m sure he is exhausted, but why the smug attitude? The fans in Southern California are ready to embrace him and he’d rather walk off the pitch as if he needs to hide. He rarely makes public apperaences with the team. Did I mention he’s the highest paid Goat?

    Forget the injuries at the end of last season for the Goats, Sacha disappered. No one here wants him to leave, but its more than obvious that Mr. Kjelstan wants to go.

    His hat trick against a weak Sweden team was only a flash of greatness. Playing like that against Mexico, Guatemala, or a CONCACAF weakling would have done more for his career.

    Even against the Galaxy this season, he ran around like a field mouse, lost and confused. Personally, I commend Preki for having the patience to allow for such poor form and behaviour.

    Sacha has gone as far as saying, “He could care less about his playing as long as the team wins.” How’s that for a winning attitude?

    Immature, yes. Talented, no doubt.

    A starter in the 2010 world Cup, nah.

  9. mcadaal says:

    Jacob A. is right.

  10. wally says:

    It’s gotta be the hair. The mojo’s gone. The SoCal soccer dude is now a goofy scrawny guy.

  11. djc69 says:

    that picture would make a perfect “you write the caption”. ‘Maybe I should have waited on that haircut !!’

  12. hot toddy says:

    The Times is reporting that he’s come down with the avian monkeypox flu.

  13. arkjayback says:

    Are Landon Donovan and Kenny Cooper the only two Americans that can get past a failed-transfer hangover? It seems like any American in MLS that is either looking forward to a big transfer or has a transfer fall though, they just can’t recover for a while: Guzan, Dempsey, Adu, Twellman, Altidore, and now Kljestan. Sonofab****.

    Well, at least we can prepare ourselves for dips in form from guys like Marvell Wynne, Robbie Rogers at some point in the foreseeable future.

  14. James says:

    That’s what happens when you get a girlfriend and a haircut.

  15. Michael Vann says:

    Sacha is just battling through the emotion of having his name associated with some decent European sides. We will never know if he and his agent were in deep discussions aside from the Celtic trail. It’s easy to have that notion of “where am I going next in my career” flowing in your head. The goods ones erase that and focus on the task at hand but it’s easy to fall into that thought. Toja and Guzan were not very good in the months leading up to their transfers. These players tend to put extra pressure on themselves but they know their future is in other’s hands so they try too hard, struggle, or even detach themselves from their current club. All these have some negative impacts on their play. I think Sacha will be fine. If I’m Preki (and/or Bradley) I sit down and have a heart-to-heart with. I reassure him of his ability and make him understand there are more important tasks at hand.

  16. Felix says:

    Kljestan is suffering the same thing alot of young Yanks go through prior to a inevitable transfer to Europe. I remember the same sort of slumps from Brad Guzan, Danny Szetela, Freddy Adu, and Clint Dempsey. You even see Marvell Wynne suffering from the same thing – but to a lesser extent than Kljestan.

    He’s just another young player (by American standards) who’s distracted by all the noise from Europe.

  17. kpugs says:

    Nothing’s wrong with the guy, a slump is a slump. It’s just awful timing due to the aforementioned likely transfer.

    Well…just my opinion, anyway.

  18. Turtle says:

    I just hope it’s the transfer thing and not a Feilhaber situation (big-head syndrome)…

  19. matt says:

    he was so close to leaving mls… so sad.. kids should play in the usl.. a usl team would of taken 250k for his rights… it’s not like the talent is so much better in mls and the training can’t be that much better..

  20. EA says:

    Maybe because he’s 23, and struggling to deal with success, exposure, and money while in the spotlight?

  21. Trex says:

    Agreed, Sampson 2.0

  22. dbwinger says:

    I agree with the previous posters about it being his hair. The same thing happens in pro wrestling and rock n’ roll. Once you lose the locks all of the power and magic leaves with it.

  23. K-ATL says:

    A few thoughts:

    1. MikeK – when did Celtic become even a top 10 club in the world, much less #1 in the world? Their Champions League record (and even their league title record against Rangers) would put that in serious doubt.

    2. I agree with kpugs. It’s a slump, he has lost some confidence offensively, but is still marking and tackling well, but I think he’ll be back in full stride in the coming months. He’s too good a player to stay down.

  24. lorenzo says:

    Why write this post if you aren’t going to take a stance or even try to answer your own question?

    Can’t you at least call up a reporter in LA to get their take on the situation?

  25. CapeCodFutbol says:

    Order is restored, and I can agree with kpugs again. Players have dips in form; hopefully they work through them and attain a higher level than before. Development simply doesn’t follow a straight path, despite many of us wanting it to do so. Seems like this is what’s up with Kljestan too. (Though to be honest his dip in form might have opened the door for Torres, who I rate more than SK anyway so good timing I guess?)

  26. Here Comes Treble says:

    I don’t get the point of this piece. It’s not quite news…not quite an opinion piece…not quite a history report. I know contacting Kljestan for comment might be a bit much to ask, but it’d be nice if a) some new, insightful information were offered; or b) some more focused analysis were written. I feel the same way about that Adu article written a while back. You’ve successfully identified a problem, but haven’t offered much beyond a recap of his last several matches.

  27. Nick D says:

    Lorenzo and Treble, get over yourselves. The story raises some very good questions on a good topic and lets us discuss them.

    Maybe you guys should start your own website where you can write these perfect stories you’re looking for.

  28. AltiCooper says:

    Always felt he was overated… Though he may be in a “slump”.. his usual best isnt anything to get excited about. He disappears for long parts of the game and is far from a playmaker. The only way I see him ever getting better is if he moves to a good offensive developmental league ie. Netherlands, Portugal, Championship… idk something at a higher caliber.

  29. yosi says:

    “I didn’t think he was particularly sharp,” Preki told the L.A. Daily News. “It’s just locker room stuff. We’ll talk about it and see if we can help. It should be a big concern for him – not for me.”

    Maybe he might be struggling with a drug problem?

  30. Jk3 says:

    He should not have cut that greasy hair. Did he shave the thin stach as well?

  31. Luke in NC says:

    K-ATL…….learn to have a little fun pal.

    I’m tired of people gettin’ all serious and riled up when somebody makes a joke or shows a lil’ club pride….

  32. Ryan says:

    With his current form he should just walk down the hall and play for the LAme Galaxy.

  33. Ulrich says:

    Sacha really isn’t that good. Now before I start getting flamed by his man-crushes, take what I said with a grain of salt. His 3-goal performance was against a sub-par team. Sacha has the ABILITY to produce skillful/masterful games, but his consistancy playing at a high level is extremely poor. Sacha is bad at defense and far too often gives the ball away with his passing or first touch. In reality, what Sacha has is raw talent that he has neither learned to call upon every games, nor learned how to apply it to an all-around game as a midfielder. Since very few teams, if any, can afford to play a midfielder that only is effective in the offensive end (and sporatically at that rate), his overall rating as a player is really not good. Sure Celtic wants to take a flyer on him and see if he develops, but there’s no way they’re planning to bring him in to play meaningful minutes in the near term.

    Sacha was riding a hot-streak, and without it he’s an average joe.

  34. JG says:

    It’s a little bit rash to call it a potential drug problem when no one has discussed his fitness level and no one has known this to be a problem for Sacha in the past.

    He’s just lost his confidence for a bit, I hope he can get it back, he’s one of my favorites American players.

  35. Modibo says:

    The point of the piece? Cynically it’s to paraphrase WJ Clinton’s first campaign, “it’s the comments, people.”

    Build traffic to the site, bring in comments, put out another Twitter post, keep people clicking through.

  36. madmax says:

    Like Fielhaber and Adu, Sacha could never realistically equal the hype generated over his small accomplishments.

    Sacha can now just settle in to a more realistic appraisal of his skills, a Bobby Convey type who will never have a major impact.

  37. MVK says:

    Until he grows his hair back to the old length id leave him on the bench, it was distracting to his opponents allowing him more time to move the ball

  38. fenel says:

    He’s a good player, but he doesn’t play well in short spaces.

  39. Dominghosa says:

    It’s the Clint Dempsey situation all over again. Looks to sign with a club, aaallllmmmoooossssttt happens. It doesn’t. Then he goes into a slump.
    But will Sacha rebound like Dempsey did?

  40. I say it is burnout. Dempsey was suffering from burnout late last year. His time on the bench was good for him. Now, he is performing consistently for Fulham.

  41. Kyle says:

    Gianfranco, great story!

  42. sonicdeathmonkey says:

    Thats out of bounds, yosi.

  43. Isaac says:

    Sacha is still my fave player on the MNT. Maybe he’s just going through being a youth talent. Best thing is to let him know, if you’re the coach, for any player, is to tell him you’re there, and then let him be.

  44. sean monaghan says:

    I’d get emo too if the league jacked my chance of making a dream move to europe,let alone celtic

  45. Danny says:

    All of his 08 and early 09 success went to his head, but I really think it was the haircut lol…To be honest though I don’t rate him high at all…I think his just other average player

  46. Scott in Houston says:

    I’ve never thought that Sacha at his best is as good as a half dozen other available players at their best. Among the other early-to-mid-20s midfielders for the US, I’d put him behind Bradley, Edu, Torres, even Feilhaber. Then you can add the older guys like Mastroeni, and you can see Sacha getting squeezed out.

    Part of the problem is that when Sacha is paired in central midfield with the guys listed above, he is expected to be more attacking, but everyone knows how easily he gives the ball away under pressure.

    That doesn’t mean that I’m counting him out, but he definitely needs to learn how to lead a team. Maybe going to Europe will give him a good experience for personal growth… but I worry about his opportunities if Preki doesn’t trust him to lead Chivas.

  47. NJsoccer says:

    it’s the haircut

  48. Here Comes Treble says:

    and yes, it’s probably the haircut

  49. Rastafari says:

    performance decreasing drugs?

  50. RLW2020 says:

    did the league block his chance at moving to celtic or was it truly a temporary work out? id be demotivated if they blocked it! i know the league has made more money holding out in most cases but still have some respect for the careers of future US talent.

  51. wally says:

    Just look at him – dude’s clearly in love with a hooker. Ronaldinho all over again.

  52. Alex says:

    How is it the leagues fault? if he was worth the value they asked then celtic would have bought him. Maybe the trial didn’t go like we thought and they decided not right now maybe in the next transfer window. He even said he didn’t want to go to a big club he wanted to go to a small club where he’d play. Some of you guys always blame the league, its the leagues fault they value the players at a reasonable market value instead of selling them cheap. get over it!! He’s lost his confidence you can see it he’s almost afraid to shoot, this is when the captain of the team earns his stripes to get sasha playing again.

  53. Tom R says:

    Hes a good kid. Just burnt out. Its impossible to play 100% year around without a break and he has not had one. Any trainer will tell you that athletes have their peaks and valleys.

  54. BrianK says:

    Could not agree more with both Alex and Tom R above.

    #1. The Euro clubs view MLS as a total 3rd rate backwater league and think it is bargain city and will, for the most part, not pay good value for players. If Shalrie Joseph had been playing in a 2nd tier European League,…some big club would have simply plunked down major coin for his signature. But with MLS,…the teams nickle and dime. Celtic were bargain hunting. Good for MLS for protecting its assets!

    #2. Sacha is definately a little burnt out. The best thing Preki can do is tell the kid to take three weeks and sit his a$$ on a beach in Hawaii,…charge his batteries and return rested and focused.

  55. Nic D "The Texas 2 Stepper" says:

    Man, It’s all about the HAIR! Or lack there of . . .

  56. Brett says:

    If he is playing poorly, or being lackadaisical in training, then it would seem he is attempting to force a summer transfer. Lowering his value to his MLS club, the league will lower its price. If so, then this is a good move on his part.

    Personally, I don’t believe that is the root. I think losing his spot in the MNT starting 11 in our home qualifier was a blow to his confidence and that is showing in his play. If he continues this bad form though, Bradley will have no choice but to save him for the Gold Cup.

  57. art says:

    yeah didnt really get the point of the piece either….we know he’s slumping, a summary of his slump doesn’t really say anything.

    probably just confidence. it happens.

  58. mwc says:

    When was it determined that Sacha Kljestan was so great? In my opinion, he has consistently given away possession with poor passing in his USMNT appearances. I think Kljestan has potential and I hope he develops further, but his game is just not there yet.

  59. dub says:

    like i’ve been sayin all along, it’s the hair cut!!!

  60. RYC says:

    He’s just not that good. He has the occasional good performance but agree with others, not consistent and not very good at all in tight spaces. Did Celtic even make an offer for him?

  61. Derek says:

    his girlfriend is making his legs tired