When a player has 48 international appearances, a solid performance can’t be considered a breakout. But given Sacha Kljestan’s two strong shifts for the United States national team over the past week, it certainly was a breakthrough and one that will likely lead to him being a big part of the national team over the next two years.
Kljestan’s two goals and two assists in two matches of World Cup qualifying came after well over two years away from the national team. His exclusion by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was puzzling, to say the least, especially since Kljestan has been among the best central midfielders in MLS for two seasons. He brings calmness on the ball, vision and a touch of creativity, all things that the Americans are lacking in their midfield.
He was kept off the squad for this summer’s Copa America, a tournament where the United States could have used him in losses to Argentina and Colombia (twice). This, despite the fact that he is leading MLS in assists and was an All-Star. There was no logic at all to his exclusion.
Now back with the New York Red Bulls for Sunday’s home match at D.C. United, it would seem that Kljestan has done enough to warrant call-ups for the two friendly matches in October, as well as the hexagonal stage of World Cup qualifying in November. He just might have broken through back into the national team picture.
As for feedback from Klinsmann, Kljestan didn’t divulge much of what he received following two superb appearances.
“He just said ‘welcome back.’ He said I did well to take my chance and congratulated me,” Kljestan said on Friday.
The Red Bulls anticipate losing him for the national team matches in October against Cuba and New Zealand. Then there are the crucial qualifiers in November against Mexico. Kljestan would need to keep his form high in MLS, but the two matches over the past few days show a player who can make an impact.
“I would expect him to be involved in those matches. From there on in, it’s just about every game I think proving himself,” head coach Jesse Marsch said following Friday’s training.
“But if he can continue to establish himself in October, then November would be a real possibility as well.”
His head coach wasn’t surprised – “we all expected him to look like that” – by Kljestan’s two strong performances for the national team. Marsch was an assistant coach with the national team for two years when Kljestan was an integral part of the group.