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From 2007 to 2014, Sacha Kljestan earned 46 caps for the United States’ national team.
While none of those games were particularly impressive, notching just four goals and six assists during that time, Kljestan nonetheless remained a mainstay with the national squad. After all, he was a regular starter with Anderlecht, one of the top teams in Belgium, and was one of the better creative midfielders in the American talent pool.
However, box-to-box midfielder remains the United Stats’ deepest position, and thus, Kljestian got lost in the shuffle. He received his last USMNT call up in March of 2014, and had every reason to believe his national team career was over.
Due to a falling out in Belgium over playing time, Kljestan decided to return to MLS, and signed with the New York Red Bulls prior to the 2015 season. That’s when he truly worked his way back into the national team picture.
In 59 games for the Red Bulls over the past two seasons, Kljestan has notched an incredible 13 goals and 29 assists as New York’s number 10 playmaker. Over that time, only reigning league MVP (and top candidate to win the award again in 2016) Sebastian Giovinco has been able to match Kljestan’s assist numbers, with 29 over two seasons as well.
Additionally, according to WhoScored, Kljestan has notched 3.3 key passes per game this season in MLS, the most of any player in the league. Needless to say, Kljestan has made his mark as one of the best distributors in the entire league.
Eventually, the numbers got too gaudy to ignore, and as multiple midfielders declared themselves out with injury for Jurgen Klinsmann’s early September camp, Kljestan got his first call up to the national team in two years. Despite the fact that Sacha thought it was a prank when he got the call, he joined the national team for the two World Cup qualifiers.
In the 66th minute of the United States’ first match against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Kljestan finally got the moment he was waiting for, when he came on as a substitute for Alejandro Bedoya. From there, he made sure not to squander the chance he had waited two years for.
Kljestan got involved in all three goals for the remainder of the match, scoring once and assisting on the other two, all while demonstrating incredible link up play with 17-year-old winger Christian Pulisic. Kljestan’s incredible touch and creativity to pick out a pass were on full display as the U.S. routed the tiny island nation, leaving many fans wondering why this man had sat out for so long.
While it is notable that this is a game against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, one of the minnows of CONCACAF, fans cannot deny the skills Kljestan brings to the national team. He is one of the only players in the pool capable of picking out a difficult ball for an attacker, while simultaneously serving as a sort of midfield metronome, helping Michael Bradley dictate the pace of the game and possession in the field. That combination will be invaluable to the United States in the Hex, especially on the road against the more difficult CONCACAF opponents.
Kljestan remains one of the only national teamers who has seemingly benefited from a return to the MLS, and USMNT fans should be ecstatic with how well he seemingly fit in on Friday. While it’s just one game against a non-competitive opponent, Kljestan showed that even at 30, he still has the ability to perform on the international stage. Hopefully Klinsmann will continue to give the veteran midfielder chances to prove himself with the national team.