Sacha Kljestan

  • DOB September 9, 1985
  • Age 31
  • Place of birth Huntington Beach, California
  • POSITION Midfielder
  • HEIGHT 6'1"
  • WEIGHT 170
  • U.S. CAPS 48
  • CLUB New York Red Bulls
  • TWITTER @sachakljestan (187K followers)
  • Current ASN 100 Rank 22
  • Previous ASN 100 Rank 24
  • Youth Experience U-20, U-23

Sacha Kljestan is perhaps the biggest enigma in the U.S. national team player pool. He can be brilliant on the ball and is one of the most creative attacking players in the mix, but he is frequently overlooked when rosters are picked. Adam Spangler captured it well in his epic 2010 story about the midfielder: "Elite clubs by the age of 12. Regional Olympic Development Program by 14, then not even considered for the California state Under-15 team. Cut from the U-17 state team, only to star on the same team a few weeks later. Slow to garner attention with colleges and the national team program. One of only three league freshmen to earn Big East all-conference honors. Starter for the U-20s at the 2004 Milk Cup; benchwarmer for the 2005 U-20 World Cup. Finalist for 2006 MLS Rookie of the Year. Poster boy for the 2008 U-23 Olympic team. Winner of U.S. Soccer’s Goal of the Year, Young Male Athlete of the Year, MLS All-Star, and Best XI."

The rollercoaster ride continues to this day. Kljestan missed out on the 2010 World Cup roster and then jumped from Chivas USA to Belgium's Anderlecht, where he became a star in 2012. “It’s probably been my best season,” Kljestan told The New York Times in May 2012. “I’ve grown a lot this year in many ways. I’ve become more all-round and I think I do a lot of things now that help the team. I also think I’ve become a good leader both on the field and in the locker room.”

On paper Kljestan is a player Jurgen Klinsmann should love. After all, the German coach has made little secret of wanting his players to push themselves at European clubs, preferably with teams that play in the Champions’ League and Europa Cup. He also claims to want technical, possession-oriented players. Kljestan checks all those boxes yet he has never seemed to catch Klinsmann’s favor.

Of the first 13 games he played under Klismann (through September of 2014), only four have been starts and eight of the caps came in friendlies. He didn’t make the 2013 Gold Cup squad and two of the five qualifiers in which he played – including his only start in qualifying - were after the U.S. had clinched a spot in Brazil. He only played one game in 2014 before the World Cup and wasn’t among the 30 players invited to the pre-World Cup camp from which the roster that went to Brazil was chosen.

Kljestan will be 33 at the 2018 World Cup – the same age as Jermaine Jones and Brad Davis were in 2014 – so a more prominent national team role isn’t impossible. However, he’ll have to do something to curry more favor from Klinsmann if that’s to happen.—NOAH DAVIS

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