In September, Sacha Kljestan was a last-minute addition to the U.S. roster that was facing important World Cup Qualifying clashes against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago. Receiving his first invite in two-and-a-half years, the 31-year-old midfielder came into camp unsure if he would even play a part. He that and more, making the most of his 24 substitute minutes against St. Vincent by bagging a goal and providing two assists in the 6-0 route.
Kljestan started the decisive match with T&T four days later and found the crucial opening goal in a 4-0 victory against the Soca Warriors, helping the U.S. finish first in its semifinal round World Cup Qualifying group. Kljestan’s output during the two matches was enough for MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to confirm he’d be recalled for this camp in that night’s post-game press conference.
“Last month I had an opportunity,” Kljestan told reporters Monday in Miami. “It had been two-and-a-half years being out of the National Team, so I came in with a fire under my ass and I just wanted to prove everything -- prove everybody wrong, prove everybody right -- just do everything that I was good at to try to help the team win. Fortunately, I was able to do that. I’m glad that Jurgen gave me the chance.”
Upon returning to the New York Red Bulls last month, Kljestan showed no signs of slowing down. In his five matches across all competitions, he has racked up two goals and two assists while helping the Red Bulls clinch a postseason berth as well as a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
With six goals and a league-leading 17 assists, he’s been part of 41 percent of the Red Bulls goals this season and is in the running for the M.L.S. MVP award. Beyond the statistical achievements, Kljestan said he believes his presence in the New York locker room is ‘a big reason’ he’s back in the MNT picture.
“I’ve become a leader on my team. I’ve become an important player on the Red Bulls and we’ve had a very good couple of seasons now,” he said. “I think that’s what you have to do. You have your job at your club to make your team better, to be an impact player, and I think I’ve done that.”
As the MNT preps for the final round of World Cup Qualifying with friendly matches against Cuba and New Zealand, Klinsmann has chosen to give chances to a number of players that have been away from the team for some time, including Danny Williams, Timmy Chandler and Julian Green. While the trio will try to emulate what the New York Red Bulls midfielder did last month and impress enough to earn their way onto November’s World Cup Qualifying roster, Kljestan has a bigger goal for the two matches.
“It’s a good practice for us to move forward and try some new players, some younger players are here that are getting their chance,” he said. “Obviously I just want to make an impact on the game in a positive way so that when it comes to time for Mexico and Costa Rica, I hope I’m in the starting XI.”
Excited to be back in camp with #USMNT and looking forward to going back to Cuba again!— Sacha Kljestan (@SachaKljestan) October 3, 2016