Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
MEXICO CITY — With Jermaine Jones back in Germany recovering from an ankle injury suffered in the U.S. Men’s National team’s World Cup qualifying victory against Costa Rica, Jurgen Klinsmann has a variety of options to turn to for a replacement. As much as Maurice Edu seems like he should be a lock to fill in for Jones, Klinsmann could be ready to turn to a player who has yet to start for the U.S. since Klinsmann took charge.
Sacha Kljestan’s last start for the United States came in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals, and for more than a year and a half he has been biding his time for a chance to return to a more regular role. Klinsmann has yet to give him a start, choosing instead to use him as a substitute on six different occasions, most recently in the team’s loss to Honduras in February.
So why would Klinsmann turn to Kljestan now? It depends entirely on whether Klinsmann is serious about wanting to attack Mexico on Tuesday night rather than sitting back and defending. If he is, then there isn’t an available central midfielder with more experience in qualifiers than Kljestan.
It is easy to forget that Kljestan was a fixture for Bob Bradley in the lead-up to the 2010 World Cup. Kljestan appeared in 10 of 18 qualifiers, starting seven. Among those starts was a solid showing in the U.S. team’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying win vs. Mexico in Columbus, Ohio on Feb. 11, 2009.
“Not having (Jermaine Jones) obviously a coach always looks for the next solutions, we have players who can step in, if it’s Maurice Edu, if it’s Kyle Beckerman, if it’s Sacha Kljestan or if it’s Joe Corona, we have a lot of good players that give us those options,” Klinsmann said on Monday.
For Kljestan’s part, he believes he is more than capable of handling the duties of playing alongside Michael Bradley well. It is a partnership that has worked well for the United States before, and one Kljestan is hoping to see again on Tuesday.
“I feel comfortable to step in to do a job, especially if it’s next to Michael (Bradley),” Kljestan said. “We’ve played a lot of games together and we have a very good relationship. We have a good understanding of how we play, and the interesting thing for me is that the way we’re playing now is the same way we play at Anderlecht, and Michael reminds me a lot of the guy I play next to at Anderlecht, Lucas Biglia.
“It would be an easy way to step in for me, and I think it would bring a little more football quality to a game where we would need to make Mexico run a little bit.”
Bradley gave Kljestan a ringing endorsement as a potential replacement for Jones. He surely remembers their partnerships not only in 2010 World Cup qualifying, but the 2008 Olympics.
“Sacha, every time he comes in he shows that he’s a really good soccer player and as far as reading things, as far as understanding the game, as far as tactically knowing how to play, he’s so good in all those ways,” Bradley said. “There’s certain guys that are easy to play with, and when you have guys that are easy to play with that means a lot. That allows the team to play better, and it allows each guy around him to play better and so certainly Sacha’s one of those guys.”
Kljestan has had mixed results as a bench option under Klinsmann, but he does believe he has shown something coming off the bench despite how difficult it can be to make a mark with limited minutes.
“When you come off the bench you don’t really have a chance to make your stamp on the game,” Kljestan said. “You just try to do a job and help the team win. The good thing for me, against Honduras I came in and couldn’t make a difference and we lost, but in the previous three games that I came in off the bench we either came back and tied or came back and won.
“Those were good things to know that when I was on the field I helped in a certain way and we got some results, but it’s difficult when you come off the bench, especially in qualifying. It’s not easy.”
Kljestan could wind up being in the starting lineup on Tuesday, and rekindle a successful partnership with Bradley. If he does, it will be a clear sign that Klinsmann is serious about attacking Mexico, and it could be the first of several starts for Kljestan under Klinsmann if he can show he’s capable of being an effective starter.