Kljestan working hard to impress Klinsmann ahead of USMNT friendly matches

Sacha Kljestan

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By DAN KARELL

It may not be showing in the win column, but Anderlecht midfielder Sacha Kljestan is playing some of the best soccer of his career since he moved abroad.

The U.S. Men’s National Team regular has scored seven goals in 13 Belgian league matches, including three in his last three games. Now, with his side mired in a UEFA Champions League dogfight at the bottom of Group 4, Kljestan must focus on three fronts—the league, European competition, and USMNT friendly matches next week—to keep him in line for a roster spot in Brazil.

“I think every little thing you do is important,” Kljestan told U.S. Soccer in an interview. “Playing in Champions league is important, being a leader on your team is important, scoring goals and helping your team win games is important also. I’m just trying to do everything in my power to put myself in a good position to be one of the guys that Jurgen [Klinsmann] counts on when it comes to Brazil.”

Kljestan’s club Anderlecht currently sits in fifth-place in the Belgian Pro League, five points behind leaders Standard Liege with 28 points from a 9-1-4 record. The 28-year-old admits that after winning the league title last season, the club sold off some of their older players, including Argentine midfielder Lucas Biglia, forward Tom de Sutter, and forward Dieumerci Mbokani, leading to some difficult results.

In their first three Champions League games this season, Anderlecht has been on the wrong side of losses, including an embarrassing 5-0 defeat at home to Paris Saint-Germain two weeks ago. Even with the tough losses both in Europe and in the domestic league, it hasn’t stopped Kljestan from turning into the team’s leading scorer in the league so far.

“It’s hard to explain,” said Kljestan on his goal-scoring form. “Four of the seven goals have come off set pieces. I’ve been putting myself in good positions to score on set pieces. The others have come from the run of play. I’ve just been putting myself in a good spot and really taking my chances.

“It’s not like I’ve had a ton of opportunities to score this season. I’ve really had maybe 10 and scored on seven of them. It’s just one of those things that happen in soccer. Sometimes when you get in the zone and you get a little bit of luck here and there, and you have some experience to go along with it, things just kind of fall into place. Right now, I have the hot hand and I hope it continues.”

One adjustment that Kljestan has had to make mentally is accepting that when everyone is fit, he’s not in USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting lineup. For most of  2013, the California native has usually been the third central midfielder behind Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley.

However, Kljestan admitted that when the U.S. played Jamaica last month in Kansas City, he had a conversation with Klinsmann about his place in the team and Kljestan left the meeting feeling more secure about his responsibilities and what the manager wants from him.

“I had a good talk with Jurgen when we were in Kansas City,” said Kljestan. “I feel positive about my performances lately and I hope to continue getting more chances before the World Cup to prove that I’m valuable to the team.

“I think recently in the games I have played I’ve done well. When I came on against Bosnia and helped the team to a victory in the end, and the same against Jamaica when I came on. So, maybe my impact is in that substitute role that can help the team in the middle of the field get the game going and things like that. ”

The former Seton Hall Pirate should have another chance to impress with the USMNT squad this month with friendly matches against Scotland on Nov. 15 and Austria on Nov. 19. And if he can translate his rich goal-scoring form from Anderlecht to the national team, it would be further proof that he deserves a spot on the 2014 World Cup roster.

“Every game is an opportunity, every international date is a chance to prove to Jurgen, the staff and the team that you belong and you can make a difference,” Kljestan said. “So, hopefully I’m there with the guys. Obviously playing against two very good European teams in Europe is always a challenge and hopefully we get a good result.”

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51 Responses to Kljestan working hard to impress Klinsmann ahead of USMNT friendly matches

  1. a says:

    will he become the first US player to score in the CL tonight?

    …..

    the first US player with a heavy moustache?

    • betamale says:

      Beasely scored in the 4 CL goals with PSV on their way to the semi finals

    • Jersey2Colorado says:

      Betamale beat me to it… How could you forget beasley?

      • Ali Dia says:

        The honor of first American to score in the Champions League actually belongs to Jovan Kirovski, who achieved the feat during his time with Borussia Dortmund in the late nineties. During the 1996-1997 campaign, he became the first (and still only) American to win the Champions League, although he made only 2 appearances and did not dress for the final. Wikipedia erroneously claims that Kirovski scored during this campaign. In fact, Kirovski did score in the following campaign, netting the second goal of Dortmund’s final group stage game, a 3-0 win away to Sparta Prague. As far as I am aware, this is the first goal scored by an American in the Champions League.

  2. nato says:

    you can tell this guy was once in SPECIAL FORCES

  3. nato says:

    Years ago Gooch was 1 of the best players in Belgium. Up there with Vincent Kompany (now captain at Man City) and now Kljestan is 1 of the best players at his club. He’s really doing something. I doubt he will make the WORLD CUP squad but he’s gonna do his best.

    • Hogatroge says:

      I’d say he has a pretty good chance of making the World Cup squad… no guarantees, but his stock is rising at the right time. He’s done well for himself in the squad in his last few appearances, and there are several backup slots available in the midfield.

      The only guys ahead of him for certain are Bradley and Jones, though an argument could be made for Diskerud.

  4. marden08 says:

    He has been in the group of whipping boys (who hasn’t) of the internet soccer bullies. I have always thought highly of him and he has got better over these past two years. He doesn’t have a real burst and is not effective on the outside. But I really like him in the middle but I don’t see him knocking out Bradley or Jones as a starter. I would like to see both he and Cameron go to Brasil.

    • biff says:

      Geoff Cameron to Brazil? No way. They guy has only started about every game for the past 15 months for Stoke in the Premier League at right back, so Geoff obviously does not have the right stuff for Klinsmann, who prefers slotting MLS midfielders in at right back for the USMNT or guys who never dress for their clubs or guys who always decline invitations to join the team in WCQ qualifying games, but now that the dirty work is over will no doubt be happy to play in meaningless friendlies to win a ticket for Brazil.

      • AlexH says:

        I think Jurgen’s attitude is going to change big time as the WC draws near when he will adopt a thoroughly German “What can you do for me NOW” attitude toward roster spots. I think that if Kljestan and Cameron are in the form they are now they will certainly be on the plane to Brazil if for no other reason that JK will want seasoned professionals to step in should his flavor of they week get injured or suspended.

        • whoop-whoop says:

          I’m pretty sure German’s don’t have a monopoly on “what can you do for me now”. In fact…. I’d say it is a universal standard in the sporting world.

          • Nate Dollars says:

            i also think that klinsmann can be more stereotypically american than he is stereotypically german, which is, i think, one reason why he was unsuccessful over there (manager-wise, of course).

  5. Umlaut says:

    I would really like to see him paired with Bradley for a game. I think that could be a dangerous combo.

    • Smacking says:

      This was the go to pairing for a while in the previous cycle, but Kljestan’s form didn’t last. I agree that I’d like to see it again. He’s come a long way since then. Doubt he knocks off Jones for a starting place, but I think he provides a change of pace off the bench.

  6. John says:

    Anderlecht at least keeping PSG out of the goal for the first half. Mitrovic just kills so many of the attacks for them.

  7. Lost in Space says:

    While I’m not a huge fan of Kljestan, I will admit/concede that he is likely to make the coaching staff’s decisions difficult when it comes time to select the 23 going to Brazil.
    Kljestan’s problem is that he is unremarkable. He’s a solid player who slots in as a Box-to-Box midfielder. He doesn’t have a lot of bite on the Defensive side (ala Jones/Cameron/Beckerman or Edu/Williams); nor does he have the creativity of Bradley (possibly Mixx/Holden). So where does he fit into the CM picture?
    Kljestan is a 3rd choice Box-to-Box CM….so unless Jones or Bradley are injured his best chance to secure a seat on the plane to Brazil will be to beat out Mixx as the offensive CM off the bench.
    Cameron & Beckerman are the best CDM’s (right now)
    Mixx is probably the most creative/slick CM & has more pace than Sasha.

    • Ali Dia says:

      Agree with your assessment, pretty much. I believe he makes the trip, largely as cover in the event of injury/suspension to the first choice CM’s. Also, I think he is a good guy to bring on to help lock up the MF in the event we are protecting a lead in the second half. Obviously, this hasn’t happened much since 2002.

    • John says:

      I’m all for giving Kljestan a few chances I mean its not as if Jones has been wonderful in every start.

      • Hogatroge says:

        +1

        This. If Klinsmann continues to lump Cameron in with the defenders, I see Kljestan as the #3 or #4 guy in the midfield right now. Honestly, Diskerud is probably ahead of him right now, but Kljestan’s had the better performances for the US of late and his club form is still climbing for the 3rd straight season.

        • GW says:

          “Klinsmann continues to lump Cameron in with the defenders”

          Cameron is primarily a defender.

          Cameron had one great game in midfield is against Panama, a CONCACAF team that none of you value and who proved themselves impotent in the HEX, nearly as feckless as Mexico.

  8. John says:

    Great assist from Kljestan!!

  9. Maykol says:

    If you could only take 2 of the 3 to the World Cup who would you take? Kljestan, mix, beckerman

    • John says:

      I take Beckerman for cover in case anything happens to Bradley. No one else can seem to handle dropping back and picking the ball up off the back line and connecting the midfield. Then I take Kljestan because I’m not really sure where Mix fits in. Is he a true central midfielder or does he play in the more advanced role we’ve seen Dempsey play. I’m just not sure.

    • Ali Dia says:

      It’s a good question (I would also throw Torres in for the purpose of this comp). I think the cop-out, although accurate, answer is that it will become a lot more clear after the draw, once we know the 3 teams we definitely need to face. I fear that Beckerman’s value will be very minimal if we have to face 2-3 teams that have a high degree of technical proficiency and that press well in MF. I don’t see him being able to be his disruptive self against top, top opposition. Moreover, he has a heavy touch and limited passing range/vision that could see him badly exploited.

      • John says:

        After the Costa Rica match I fear how Cameron and Jones might handle high pressure as well. It seemed like they lost the ball every time they turned around. Not that Beckerman would have done any better but it makes you question what you do with out Bradley.

      • GW says:

        “I don’t see him being able to be his disruptive self against top, top opposition.”

        How many of the USMNT players do you see as being “themselves” against “top, top opposition” in the competitive atmosphere of a World Cup?

        How many US players have had a chance to prove they could be “themselves” in those circumstances?

        Only Landon comes to mind.

        • Ali Dia says:

          No disagreement, bud. I’d rate Bradley and Howard there, but that’s a matter of opinion. And it might be unfair to exclude Dempsey… the few times we’ve managed good results that might turn some heads internationally (Spain 2009, England 2010, Italy 2012, Germany 2013) Dempsey had his fingerprints all over it and his name on the scoresheet,

          All of this is outside of my point, which is a little different, For me, Beckerman’s primary value to the USMNT is disruptiveness and possession in the middle third. Compared to the average international midfielder from a top 30 side, his attacking skills and passing vision are probably bottom 15%. If he can’t do these things, he really has no value at all and shouldn’t be on the field.

          By comparison, guys like Kljestan and Diskerud offer something that would at least have credible value against an elite side. No, neither will be mistaken for Xavi or Pirlo, but they at least offer the potential of being something besides a liability. Take Beckerman’s disruptiveness away, and he simply does not.

          • GW says:

            Ali Dia,

            Howard was not “himself” in the 2010 World Cup. Had he been the US might well have beaten Ghana and advanced. In that World Cup Timmy let down the USMNT.

            Dempsey has been good but not really “himself”, the Deuce, in any of his World Cup games. His goal did tie England in 2010, and while we all would take it, I would not say he was at his best in that game.
            JK certainly sees something of value in Beckerman, who is a clear contender for a spot in Brazil.

            “Compared to the average international midfielder from a top 30 side,

            That’s probably a moot point since how many midfielders do we have who play in “top 30” sides? I don’t rate Roma a top 30 side but Mikey could play for one. Jones could too. I don’t know if Schalke are top 30. I doubt Anderlecht is but I could be wrong.

            “his attacking skills and passing vision are probably bottom 15%.”

            I don’t agree. And JK appears to have a different opinion of Beckerman than you do.

            In your defense the qualities that teamates and coaches value in players like Beckerman are often difficult if not impossible for outsiders to appreciate. All I know is JK appears to trust the Crofton Kid and for the most part, Beckerman has not let him down.

            You worry about what Beckerman can’t do while I’m impressed by what he can do.

            I don’t worry about Beckerman costing the US a game. What I notice about JK’s team’s in the Hex is that when they have lost it seems as if the entire team fails to show up as opposed to the loss being down to an individual error. The opening Honduras loss was one of the worst overall performances I’ve ever seen by any US team. The Costa Rica loss was primarily due to a team wide disorientation caused the loss of Mikey in warmups.

            In other words winning and losing seems very clearly a team oriented thing with this edition.

            • Ali Dia says:

              Weapons down GW!… Just a conversation piece. I don’t know the answer. I do like Beckerman and wouldn’t throw a tantrum if he made the plane, or even if he found his way into the first XI in a critical game. My thoughts were meant as a response to the hypothetical that Maykol threw out there, nothing more.

              And hey I agree with half the points you make. You state that you don’t consider Roma a top 30 side (I actually meant international sides, not clubs…maybe 32 would’ve been a better number, but the point is similar I suppose.. ). You’d be hard pressed to find a pundit who doesn’t rate Roma top 5-10. But I don’t, so hey we have something in common yeah?

              My point is really simple ( and simple to disagree with if you are so inclined). If we are facing Brazil (as an example) and need a result to advance, I’d rather roll with Kljestan or Diskerud, because I believe that they have potential to produce the one moment of magic we’d need. And I believe Beckerman could never do this, and couldn’t accomplish what he does so effectively in CONCACAF and MLS, which is stifle the opposing game plan. Could I be wrong? Sure. Just one mans’ thoughts on a hypothetical question.

              • GW says:

                I will agree that Mix and Sacha are more likely to be used than Kyle if you want to be more aggressive but I still think his attacking qualities are underappreciated.

                I do think Mix still has hard teams with teams that would pressure him from the start. Brazil for example would shut him down from the get go.

                Of the three Sacha is my choice for best all around midfielder but if JK has to pick one of the three for a game my guess is it would be a game time practice influenced decision.

                Mostly, all three are flawed spare parts that JK has to make the most off.

          • John says:

            Jozy also had a pretty big hand in each of those results out side of the England match. Though he nearly had one that went off Green and hit the post after a pretty awesome run.

            • Ali Dia says:

              Agreed John. I’m a dual and half English, but it always burns me up when my delusional English friends talk about how lucky the US was to get a point in that match… fact is we came much closer to poaching a winner in a match that was largely even.

              To your point, Jozy was top and was quality in most of the top US results over the last 5 years, and I didn’t even mention Bosnia. Don’t see much getting done in Brazil without him making his presence felt.

          • Kevin says:

            I agree, Beck

  10. Dennis says:

    Kljestan has always been a player who reads the game well. He sometimes tries to pull off plays that he is technically unable to do (he is a bit like Jones in that unfortunate trait). When he focusses on what he can do, he plays very well. I have always wondered if he is quite athletic enough to be a good international player, but I think he is ahead of Beckerman in athleticism and probably in skill. Beckerman is very clever in that he almost always plays within his capabilities so that (mostly) the only times he looks foolish is when an opponent simply blows by him. Cameron has had some good games, and plays regularly for Stoke, but I am not sure he has more skill or soccer smarts than Kljestan, but Cameron is a bit quicker and, I think, a better defender. Three different players, JK gets to decide which he thinks can help the team more.

    • Dennis says:

      Diskerud is different than the other 3 and a lot younger, I thought he struggled when he faced opponents who pressured the ball early, but looked skillful when he was not under pressure. I suspect JK will be looking for Diskerud to show he can handle early hard pressure better and be more effective in helping defensively, something every player must do. (Except maybe Romario)

    • Hogatroge says:

      Kljestan’s good enough to start on a (admittedly weak) Champions League team, which is a form of international competition. Doesn’t mean he’s top tier international caliber, but he can certainly contribute to the US team.

  11. QuakerOtis says:

    Aaaaand… a red card. Nice assist earlier though :/

  12. t says:

    Had a good seat at the game last night so I had an eye on him for most of the match, which isn’t hard to do because he is tall with a ‘stache and he stays very involved in the match. I think he had a good one and kind of made up part of the mud that PSG got stuck in. Mud, because he is a bit slow and awkward out there, but he is a smart player who finds good positions offensively and defensively and wasn’t at all shy to tackle or run at a much more athletic team. He definitely influenced the game positively. Nonetheless his first yellow card was because he was just too slow for Lucas in the open field, the second because he was too tired to move and block the ball with something other than his hand.

  13. Brett says:

    I think his spot on the plane is guaranteed barring injury. Of our European players, he’s getting the most regular first-team football and is showing that his “soccer IQ” is growing by so often being in the correct spot at the correct time. Doutbless, he’s ahead of guys like Diskerud, Danny Williams, and Jose Torres for the same role.

    If I had a depth chart I would put him behind Bradley in the 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 (with Jones ahead of Cameron for the other spot). I do not like him at all in the attacking trident behind the striker. Those spots are reserved for the more dangerous players like Fabian, Castillo, Donovan, Johannson, and Dempsey (if he gets his form back).

    I think you deploy him in a game where the opposite team is holding majority of possession and you’re relying on the counter to score. He can pick out a dagger pass on a counter, and he’s good at joining in with bombing runs forward. But if he has to collect, redistribute, move, collect, and then possibly defend when possession is lost, he will show himself to be just a step off and a second late without the pace or determination to make it up. This is really where Jermaine Jones and Bradley (and even Cameron) beat him out.

    The only way I see Sacha in the starting 11 is if he plays a side spot in a 4-3-3 with Bradley on the other side and Jones holding ahead of the CBs and pressing the line forward.

  14. HoboMike says:

    Anyone going to mention the drastic title change of this post, not to mention the complete deletion of the poster’s post who originally pointed it out? I feel like we’re in Mother Russia.

  15. Nephi says:

    Good to see so many guys fighting so hard for their spots. The 2014 WC field will be as tough as it’s ever been, and the US need a field full of players with killer instinct. And of course it’s an excellent indicator of the depth from which Jurgen can choose this year.

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