Kljestan poised to capitalize on first USMNT start under Klinsmann

Sacha Kljestan

By FRANCO PANIZO

CLEVELAND – Speaking at his pre-game press conference on Tuesday, U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann made it clear that the pair of upcoming friendlies will serve as an opportunity for players to prove themselves and he even used the player sitting next to him as a prime example.

That player was Sacha Kljestan.

Klinsmann revealed during the press conference that he is set to give Kjestan his first U.S. start in two years and the first under his watch when the Americans battle Belgium on Wednesday night at FirstEnergy Stadium. Even more interesting is the fact that Kljestan will get that start in central midfield, where is often deployed for Pro League champions Anderlecht but rarely used under Klinsmann.

The absences of Michael Bradley, Danny Williams and other midfield options may have opened the door for Kljestan to earn his first start since Bob Bradley coached the U.S. to a 2-1 win over Honduras in the 2011 Gold Cup semifinals. But Kljestan’s form at the club level in recent months has convinced Klinsmann that the veteran midfielder is ready for a look in his more natural position.

“There’s a reason why Sacha is here,” said Klinsmann. “He won, again, the Belgian title and had to swallow a couple of pills over the last two years here because he’s not getting that many games as he hopes to get. But he deserves to be part of this strong group and now has the opportunity tomorrow to start in midfield alongside Jermaine Jones and playing against his second home country.

“It’s just a big compliment to him, how he performed all year round with Anderlecht and how every time he comes in here in camp, he shows his qualities to the entire group.”

Kljestan is no stranger to playing centrally. Aside from being deployed in the middle of the park for Anderlecht, Kljestan played primarily as a central midfielder when he broke onto the international scene in 2009.

In recent years, however, Klinsmann has opted to use the 27-year-old as a bench option for the wings. That might not be Kljestan’s preferred position but he does not mind playing there, especially since that versatility and flexibility have seen him go from often overlooked to a regular on U.S. rosters.

While Kljestan could further cement his place on the team with a solid showing on Wednesday against the nation he is quite familiar with, he is also looking at the friendly vs. Belgium as a test run for what could come in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Bradley and Jones, two of Klinsmann’s preferred starting midfielders, are one caution away from being suspended due to yellow-card accumulation and should that happen, Kljestan might be asked play in his preferred spot once again.

“It’s an honor to be with the national team (and) I’ll play whatever position is asked of me and I’ll do anything to help the team but I’m also excited to play at center midfield with Jermaine,” said Kljestan. “I know also that some guys have yellow cards coming in – I’m fortunate that Michael is not here so that now I get a chance to play – but if it so happens that Michael or Jermaine pick up a suspension at some point through qualifying, I want to prove to the coaches that I’m able to step in and do the job in the middle of the field and help the team as well, so I’m excited for that opportunity.”

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52 Responses to Kljestan poised to capitalize on first USMNT start under Klinsmann

  1. bryan says:

    im looking forward to seeing him get a full game in.

  2. John says:

    It’ll be good to see him in his actual position. I think he could surprise some people.

    • Good Jeremy says:

      agreed.

    • Old School says:

      We’ve watched him for how many years? Under both managers completely underwhelm aside from his match against Sweden.

      The only surprise would be for him to be remotely effective and not complete disappear aside from poor distribution or general balls lost.

      I’ll definitely agree that he hasn’t always been slotted in his ideal spot (central midfield), but this is International soccer. You aren’t always playing YOUR specific position but rather a spot to help your country. Sooner or later, Kljestan needs to step up and simply contribute…wherever he’s playing.

      • jlm says:

        when was the last time you saw him play actual minutes for the national team? as in 60 or so minutes.

        dude has not really gotten much of a chance in a long time

        • Old School says:

          When has he deserved more than 60 minutes?

          Playing for National team isn’t charity. You have your chance, seize the moment. Whether it’s 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 45 minutes.

          When’s the last time he impressed you for the Nats? In any stretch of minutes?

          A lot of talk and a lot less results. I’d love to be wrong, though. Until then, people continue to tout this guy like he’s the second coming.

          • Darwin says:

            As a player that went from the college ranks to MLS for several years to Europe, Kljestan is a late bloomer like Clint. How much did the EPL elevate Dempsey’s game?

            Kljestan’s game has elevated over the years at Anderlecht, and I have seen him play a tidy, quick passing game with them. I would even dare to say that he has a wider passing range than Bradley, who often goes for the safe pass. True, he is not a world beater, but I think that he is underrated by USMNT fans and by Klinsmann.

            • Old School says:

              There’s being a late bloomer and there’s simply being a duck. Call a duck a duck.

              For the record, Kljestan is three years younger than Dempsey. Three.

              I’m not going to entertain the though of comparing their potential, general ability of trajectory of their careers on a yearly basis.

              There’s simply no comparison.

            • keithbabs79 says:

              I’m willing to kick the tires and give him a second chance. But you lost my vote on the Bradley comparison. Dempsey may score goals, but I’d pick Bradley first every time and twice on game day.

          • jlm says:

            i did not say that he was the second coming or that he was anything actually. the point is that he has not been given a chance with the national team in a really long time. meanwhile he has been a key part of a team that has done some impressive things. meanwhile the national team needs midfielders.

            why do you have to be so abrasive and act like there is no way kljestan can be a good player? drop your wannabe analysis gig for a second because you don’t have a clue how kljestan will fit in on this team.

            saying that he does not deserve a chance because he did not seize his moment in 5 or 15 minutes is stupid and you are only saying it because it supports your extreme perspective. let’s see what he can do in extended minutes in a position that makes sense.

            i for one would like to see what he will add to this team, and i hope he can be a solid player on the depth chart. you can talk all you want after the game about his performance, but you are talking out of you a$$ right now

            • Old School says:

              -Show me where I said he didn’t “deserve a chance” (I responded to he will “actually surprise some people)
              -Show me where I said YOU said he was the second coming (I’m responding to a general opinion I read quite commonly on here)

              I’m all for depth. I’m all for competition. However, Kljestan will NOT start for the Nats if the entire midfield pool is healthy and available.

              So…as I’ve said all along, he needs to do a better job of making the most of his opportunities, whether it’s 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 45 minutes.

              Why did I reference those numbers? Because he will not be starting if we have a healthy side and his contributions will likely be as a substitute. Usually, sub roles are 5 minutes, 15 minutes, etc and not always in your preferred role.

              Following yet? You don’t need to be an analyst to understand Kljestan hasn’t made the most of any opportunity he’s been given under the last two managers.

              Can’t blame JK for this one.

              • jlm says:

                you implied that he did not deserve a chance several times. once being when you called him a duck. again when you said he failed to seize the chances that he has had even though those “chances” were not actually opportunities for him to do what you are looking for him to do. you went off comparing him to dempsey as if he is the only other “late bloomer” there ever was.

                what’s wrong with saying he wil surprise some people. with your expectations, it does not sound like it would take much.

                you have written him off without actually seeing how he fits into the team. saying that he will never start if the rest of the midfield is healthy is not smart either. i agree that he might not be better than some other players (he also might be), but those players very well might get hurt or stay hurt. in that scenario, he needs to have been incorporated. also, i would say that his best case scenario is that he is part of a rotation or that he is part of a lineup that allows us to play a different way. for example, he could be part of a team in a group stage where we have already guaranteed advancement or he could be part of a team that has to get three points.

                my point is that you have not given him a chance to even see if any of this is possible.

              • Old School says:

                My implication is simple and you’re either reading too much into it, projecting what you think I mean or simply adding false information to support your feelings in this debate.

                Kljestan has not made the most of his chances. (You can continue to argue the quality of these chances and avoid the point…he has not, and you know it.)

                In the short term future and long term future, he’s “chances” will likely only come as a sub in a meaningful game. Given this reality, when has he impressed you or made anything remotely considered an “impact” in his opportunities in the past 4 years for the Nats?

                Exactly…

              • Old School says:

                I have multiple responses that have somehow been filtered by the moderation that were submitted hours ago.

                Kind of kills the conversation/debate for me, since they haven’t been made visible.

          • GW says:

            “Until then, people continue to tout this guy like he’s the second coming.”

            You are exaggerating. Most of the people on SBI wanted Sacha exiled along with Conor Casey, Brian Ching and Rico Clark.

            Sacha is still relatively young but has been with the program for many years now and put in his time. His club team have been champions two years running and he plays at a good level.

            Sacha did well in his limited time in the 2011 Gold Cup. However, for the most part he gets 10 minutes here , 30 minutes there maybe even a half every once in a while The point is when you do that you are usually asked to go in and hold the fort. If you do your job well odds you may touch the ball once or twice and sometimes not at all.

            Therefore, the only people who likely know what you did and whether you did it well are your teamates and coaches.

            The fact that JK has recalled Sacha and seems to be giving him more and more time and opportunities says a lot more about Sacha than anything anyone on SBI ever could.

            • Old School says:

              Most of the people on SBI wanted Sacha exiled along with Conor Casey, Brian Ching and Rico Clark.

              ..and you’re referring to what year?

              You’re a regular on the forums and know very well that tone has drastically changed. Hence, the “Until then, people continue to tout this guy like he’s the second coming.” comment.

              Every few months, posters have a player that rarely sees the pitch for the Nats they’re certain (and wiser than a manager) would “make a difference”. (see Bedoya, Diskerud, Torres, etc).

              …and they never do. This phase it appears to be Kljestan.

          • Dan says:

            “A lot of talk and a lot less results. I’d love to be wrong, though. Until then, people continue to tout this guy like he’s the second coming”

            Then why is Jozy there?

            • Old School says:

              I’m not here defending Jozy.

              When I do, then you can ask me that. For the record, I’ve been labeled as a Jozy hater for taking the exact opposite stance of being someone who supports his addition to the starting XI.

  3. TomG says:

    JK takes the red pill and refuses to announce rosters until the last possible second, hoping to somehow gain some infinitesimal and likely imaginary tactical edge over his counterpart. JK takes the blue pill and blurts out his starting lineup in a press conference the day before the match. In the mundane universe of cause and effect these two courses of action would appear contradictory, but in Klinsiland this makes perfect sense.

    • Good Jeremy says:

      agree on your first point, but as for the second this is just a friendly. it would almost give us an edge in competitive matches to see how our guys respond to opponents who know the starters ahead of time and have time to strategize in friendlies. or maybe I’m over thinking things.

    • Old School says:

      Whoooooo cares.

      I’m tired of entitled fans thinking they deserve to know the starting lineups. You’re a fan. Sit your butt in the seat and cheer for your country. Quit thinking you have some other type of responsibility or deserve otherwise.

      • Socom 2 says:

        Fans are the reason these players are here

        WE pay for the seats. Im a season tix holder for my local club and if i dont like what they are doing, i wont buy tix anymore

        • Old School says:

          …and someone would take your place, less entitled with as much money.

          To be honest, YOU aren’t the reason players make their salaries. It’s sponsorships, network TV deals, etc.

          Stadiums could be empty, in any sport, and the owners (and leagues) would still make profits, along with players making unbelievable salaries.

          Getting back to the topic. Quit acting like you, Bob Coachpotato, *need* to know what the starting lineup is. This Twitter/Facebook generation of fans are ridiculous.

          You’re not an owner, not a manager and not a player. You’re a fan. If you don’t want to be a fan, 3 more people will take your place.

          • Darwin says:

            Well, I’m a FC Dallas fan, and I don’t think that there are 3 fans waiting to take my seat!

            You act like we are in London…

            • Old School says:

              League revenue sharing.

              FCD is safe, even if they play out in BFE with no one willing to attend.

              Hell, given the dynamics of the league, even a team like Chivas is technically “safe” with their 4 fans.

              So, as I said: you’re a fan. Quit pretending to be anything more than that.

              • az18 says:

                I think somebody needs to calm down a little. There is nothing wrong with wanting to know the roster before the game. Now as for saying that as one fan you don’t matter. that is absolutely wrong. Consider an election. You are saying that if one person doesnt vote it wont matter. only say there are hundreds, or thousands who think that they are the one voter whos vote won’t matter. all of a sudden you are missing a huge chunk of voters and that election has changed. Now let me bring your attention to marketing. Fans do drive sports. without fans companies would not pay for sponsorship and there would be no tv deals because it would be a waste of money do to so if you are not spreading awareness. those companies pay so that fans see their names. those tv stations pay so that people watch and watch the ads and everything else on that channel. Yes its all about money, which is driven by fan awareness

              • az18 says:

                Also, implying you are a better fan, or someone else is a worse fan, because they are a different fan, is just rude

              • Old School says:

                “I think somebody needs to calm down a little. There is nothing wrong with wanting to know the roster before the game.”

                The only segment “not calm” is the jilted lovers acting as if they’ve been wronged by not being given 100% of the information by a manager.

                I don’t care what quality of fan you are…you’re a fan. Not a player.

                Stop acting as if you’re more important than the soccer-Mom that’s never been to a game sitting next to you at a match.

                Neither of you are entitled to know and neither have any more of an impact on the match even if you had.

              • Bern says:

                The fans might not be entitled to know beforehand, but if you believe that AOL article from a few months ago, JK’s not telling the players who’s playing until the last moment. That doesn’t make any sense. I assume most players would like to think about positioning and discuss tactics with teammates and visualize movements/plays – the earlier they know, the better.

              • Old School says:

                “The fans might not be entitled to know beforehand”

                ..and that’s where the conversation started and ends.

    • Jamie Z. says:

      Alright, we get it. You don’t like Jürgen Klinsmann. Why don’t you start a club or something?

  4. Amru says:

    This is probably Kljestan’s last chance to make a case for himself before the 2014 WC. Granted this won’t be the easiest of tests for him, but he has to show that he can contribute, preferably to the offense.

    • Another Jeremy says:

      He has to show three things. One he can work with JJ to cover for the back four sealing up our defensive third. Two he is comfortable and clean on the ball dealing with pressure and avoiding losing possesion in the middle of the field. Three, spring the attack with accurate, creative, and crisp passing. I haven’t had the chance to see him play for Anderlecht except for Europa here and there, but my biggest question is does he have the stamina AND to effectively execute all three at an international level? It is possible that with significantly more experience playing in Europe his game has matured and his speed of thought has increased, so while I have always seen him as less than fleet of foot, he may be able to better compensate for a lack of natural pace now. Nobody ever accused Xavi of being a sprinter. One thing is for sure this is the right game to give himi a shot.

      • GW says:

        You’re expecting way too much from this game.

        It’s entirely possible Belgium, great as they are, will forget to show up.

        Or it’s possible Belgium will let loose the dogs of war and rip up the US to the tune of 6-0 or something. They have that much talent.

        In either extreme it can be hard to know what that would tell you about a given individual player.

        • Dan says:

          OR… this game will be what it should be…a friendly to test out alternatives to our midfield without Bradley. We’ve seen what the loss of a key player can do. Why not keep building alternatives. If you’ve been watching, JK has been running certain players together to test consistency and making alternate lines to account for injury. It’s about finding ideal match-ups…the way Edu/Bradley pair up —not about the best players, but the right ones that work together.

    • Juan says:

      I agree with you. SK has had many chances and rarely shown much. Tonight’s game may be his last chance to show something.

      I am a firm believer that “a leopard can’t change it’s spots” and no mater how well his club team does, SK is still SK. At any rate, it’s in his hands…. swim or sink

  5. MikeG says:

    I am definitely not entitled as a fan, but I have bought a few USMNT game tickets in Dallas and Los Angeles, so I am entitled to my opinion, as others here too. My money has gone into player’s bank accounts with ticket and merchandise purchases. A piece of the USMNT belongs to all of us here :-) I just want to see the most competitive individual players at each position and see them mold into a competitive team as a whole. I tend to put up a mirror for the team to see in my posts. Kljestan has had a great season and ‘played’ himself on the roster. Parkhurst has not. I am not saying Parkhurst is bad, but Kljestan has had a more consistent year physically and mentally this year. His head and feet are ‘tuned’ compared to Parkhurst. Some players are more deserving of roster consideration and whatever Klinnsman has said carries no weight anymore with me. JK says one thing and does the opposite. Klinnsman cannot get our midfield going with the players who can play the positions..we are seeing more of the empty bucket crap. Attack the wings and cross it just like the EPL. I’m not saying we should not cross, but not as the normal way about the game. What about attacking centrally? We cannot only attack centrally. We need players to attack the space given or the space earned in the middle or wings and keep it going.

    • MikeG says:

      We are involved with WCQ and Klinnsman has serious issues with the midfield. He needs to stop suppressing the type of players needed in midfield who can create off the dribble, pass, and beat a player 1 VS 1. I’m sure every fan and player knows this, but for whatever reason, Klinnsman has been dysfunctional in soccer 101. Klinnsman is unnecessarily making things more complicated in midfield. Once again think WCQ and we have no real competitive midfield. I suspect a 4-2-3-1 tomorrow with no playmaker type of player against Belgium tomorrow. The three players in front of the two defensive midfielders should be playmaker types due to lack of real speed on the wings…

      • GW says:

        “I suspect a 4-2-3-1 tomorrow with no playmaker type of player against Belgium tomorrow.”

        Besides Landon who did you have in mind for that role?

        • Bern says:

          The obvious one is Donovan. Come on, I know JK’s pissed b/c he took time off, but he’s one of our most talented players (at worst 4th best behind Bradley, Dempsey, Howard) and with the lack of creativity on this team, it’s dumb to sit him if he’s fit.(And it’s better that he took time off this year rather than be burnt out in 2014).
          I guess the other hope is Stuart Holden who’s probably not fit.
          I don’t watch MLS, but people have raved about Brad Davis (though the few times I’ve seen him on USMNT, I haven’t been impressed with his distribution or holding onto possession).
          Maybe Jose Torres? But I haven’t seen him do much when he has gotten opportunities in the past.

          • Juan says:

            The guy I don’t get that doesnt get a shot is Lee Nguyen? The guy can dribble, pass, shoot and is very fast. IMO he’s a far better player than Sacha.

            JK and all his conflicting policies drive me crazy and yes… he is punishing Donovan for taking time off

          • GW says:

            Bern,

            So your answer is a guy who hasn’t really played in two years, a guy who you haven’t seen play and a guy who has been tried at that role and has yet to excel.

            This is why JK has to come up with teams that don’t rely on one individual to “bring the talent”.

            • Bern says:

              GW,
              Do you have any better ideas?

              When the full team’s here, I’d like to see Bradley move up to an attacking role, since he seems like one of the better passers on the team and use Edu (or Beckerman) as a holding MF. Or if Castillo can hold down LB (which is doubtful), move Fabian Johnson or Beasley up as LW. Beasley-Bradley-Zusi/Donovan.

              Against Belgium, I have nothing and see us not scoring unless Dempsey pulls something out of his ***.

    • Old School says:

      “whatever Klinnsman has said carries no weight anymore with me. JK says one thing and does the opposite.”

      Are you a fan or his lover?

    • Dan says:

      so why not take the time to uncover 5-6 midfield pairings now? If Bradley is injured who do we have? Why not take the time now…. Not expecting a “final” WC roster to take form till Dec. then see multiple friendlies to let them gel

  6. Ed says:

    Big opportunity, he’s definitely earned it. Kljestan is the kind of guy who will pop up for a massive goal at an unexpected moment I feel like. Best case scenario for him would to be our impact midfield sub like Mo edu at WC2010

  7. keithbabs79 says:

    Not the most flattering of pictures

  8. DC Josh says:

    It’s always been a mystery to me why Klinsi plays Edu and Beckerman over Kljestan in the midfield. He has a better pedigree than Edu & Beckerman, and offers more possession and attack.

    Can’t wait to see what Kljestan does in the next 5 games.

    • Dan says:

      good things happen when Bradley pushes forward…Edu/Beck pair well with him as they will sit back and play defense. The biggest issue to work out has been both Jones & Bradley fighting to get forward, leaving the middle exposed on the counter. MB has been better with creativity, but Jones has won out – causing the offense to sputter…we’ve seen when MB steps up though…

  9. Shchors says:

    Kljesten is a skilled pro who has earned respect by playing for the two-time championship team in a solid European league. However, he has always been held back from the next level by a woeful lack of speed. He can definitely help the US Nats in a more offensive midfield role in WC qualifiers later in June. However, I’m afraid he won’t be able to show much tonight against an ubertalented Belgium midfield. Kljesten needs other technical players around him who can enable him to play a crisp short passing game. He won’t have that in Jones, who is more of an athletic, personality player who can surge forward and score the occasional goal, but is not as gifted technically. Perhaps Kljesten will develop a rhythm with Zussi. Nonetheless, I expect the soccer blogs to dump on Kljesten tomorrow morning, citing his inability to influence the game and for giving the ball away.