Three good questions for: U.S. midfielder Sacha Kljestan

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Sacha Kljestan has excelled at Anderlecht, one of the big boys of Belgian soccer. So his lack of opportunities in Jurgen Klinsmann’s 15 months in charge had become one of the real head-scratchers for U.S. soccer supporters, and frequently a frustrating one.

Kljestan did get his latest shot last week – and the southern California native absolutely made the most of it, helping to pep up the attack over the final 15 minutes of Friday’s win over Antigua and Barbuda. The 27-year-old midfielder even helped contribute to Eddie Johnson’s game-winning goal.

I talked to Kljestan on Monday from Livestrong Sporting Park about pressure and seizing opportunities:

 

Given your limited chances so far under Jurgen Klinsmann, do you feel added pressure to make the most of your opportunities when you do arrive into a camp or get in a match in a U.S. shirt?

You know, we want to be successful. I don’t think I feel so much pressure. I think as a team, we feel the pressure of the important games. Personally, I just want to make the most of my opportunity. If given the chance to start (Tuesday), I hope I can give a full 90 minutes. In Antigua, I had 12 minutes and had to make the most of it, and I think I did.

“Jurgen has given me an opportunity to help the team, and in an important time for the team, as well. So, I’m just trying to do my best, play with urgency and help the team be a little more creative with the ball.”

What did you hope to contribute to that game in Antigua, and did you like how it all turned out?

“We could tell from the bench it was going to be a hard game. They had a lot of guys behind the ball, they fought really hard, the field didn’t really help us much. To get in there, he [Jurgen Klinsmann] just told me to play quickly, play with urgency, try to get things in front of the goal, and obviously to play forward, don’t play square balls or play backward. I think I tried to play forward as much as I could. To be involved in the last goal was nice. I [also] got a good shot. I think I added a few things a few things to the attack in the last 15 minutes.”

U.S. assistant Andreas Herzog was in the stands to watch you and Anderlecht play in Champions League against Malaga, and your performance in that contest apparently sealed the choice to call you for these matches. Are you guys generally aware of instances where Klinsmann or one of his assistants will be in the stands, and does that add some pressure.

I spoke to Andy [Herzog] before the game, a few days prior. He let me know he was coming and wished me all success, and then we spoke after the game as well.

“It’s a Champions League match, so there’s always pressure. It was our first Champions League game at home, I think, in 6 or 7 years for Anderlecht. So it was a special night. Those European night are special regardless of he’s watching or not.”

Three things: Being happy with 0-0, and sabotage by Precourt

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On what felt sure to be a seminal night in franchise history, Columbus Crew SC were held by Toronto FC to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Leg 2 will be played next Wednesday, Nov. 29.

We learned (roughly) three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


Who’s happiest with 0-0?

There’s a case to be made that both sides will be quite happy with Tuesday’s result — Crew SC for the fact they conceded no away goals, and TFC facing no deficit whatsoever before their home leg — but it’s quite clear that TFC should be the happier of the two, given 1) they were the best regular-season team in MLS history, this season; and, more importantly, 2) Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore were suspended for leg 1 (they’ll both be back for leg 2) and Crew SC failed to capitalize anywhere meaningful.

TFC lost once at BMO Field all season, while Columbus managed just four victories away from home. Granted, any draw where both sides score would see Crew SC through to MLS Cup, which they would host no matter the opponent (54 points in the regular season; Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo finished on 54 and 50, respectively).


TFC’s tactical adjustment pays off

For all of the regular season, TFC head coach Greg Vanney deployed a back-three, with great success — 69 points, an all-time regular-season record. Nov. 21, three games from lifting (or losing) MLS Cup, is hardly the ideal time to deviate from the only path you’ve known.

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Alas, the absences of Giovinco and Altidore, TFC’s permanent strike partnership in the 3-5-2, changed everything. Without Altidore’s hold-up play bringing the best player to ever grace the league into attacking moves, the 3-5-2 would have quickly devolved into a 5-3-2, followed in short order by a 5-4-1. Columbus need no invitation to hold north of 60 percent of possession in a given game, which is exactly what would have happened. Not just meaningless possession, either, but camping-inside-TFC’s-defensive-third possession; 50-crosses-into-the-box possession; get-the-center-backs-forward-too possession.

Vanney was proactive with his starting lineup, putting another body in midfield by sacrificing a striker for another man in the middle, and it paid off. At right, you’ll see Crew SC’s attempted passes into/from TFC’s defensive third. Woof.


Anthony Precourt sinks to a new low

How low is Anthony Precourt willing to go in order to sabotage Crew SC, the club he owns and efforts to move to Austin, Tex., without so much as a phony attempt at a non-relocation resolution, and alienate the fans that have supported the franchise since MLS’s debut season in 1996? Tuesday night saw Precourt and Co. up the ante as they intentionally restricted entry (two gates for the entire stadium, causing thousands to miss the game’s opening minutes) into MAPFRE Stadium with the presumed intent of a half-empty venue when the television broadcast kicked off and panned left to right.

You pay good money for a ticket so you can see your team play, which ultimately results in filling the pockets of the villain whose no. 1 goal it is to steal your team, and this is how you’re treated on gameday.

This is shameful stuff from all parties involved — Crew SC, under the leadership and direction of Precourt, and MLS, who have allowed this entire saga to be played out in a public forum and enabling Precourt every step of the way.

Report: Crystal Palace to build new stadium

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Crystal Palace may have a new home in the next few years.

That’s according to reports out of English, which state that Crystal Palace owner Steve Parish is set to make a major stadium announcement before Christmas.

Crystal Palace’s home stadium, Selhurst Park, is nearly 100 years old, and the club has looked over the last few years at either new locations for a stadium in South London or ways to renovate the current ground.

“When I came into this thing, the aim was to bring something for all of us to be proud of on the pitch and very importantly off the pitch,” Parish told the Croydon Advertiser. “We want to give everybody in Croydon a south London stadium that we can all be proud of and not lose our atmosphere and uniqueness.

“That’s a dream for me, a lifelong dream and one that hopefully everybody will share when they see what we’ve put together. It’s fantastically exciting times for us to look forward to.”

Unlike in America, where many sports owners demand a new stadium every 20-25 years or so, in England, there are many stadiums still in use across the Football League and Premier League that were initially built in the 1800s.

It’s unclear who would pay for a new Crystal Palace stadium, what it would look like and how many seats it would hold, but perhaps a new stadium and facility could help

FOLLOW LIVE – MLS Conference Finals, Leg 1

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There’s never been more on the line in the latest Trilliam Cup matchup.

For the first time, Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew will meet in the MLS Cup playoffs, kicking off at 8:00 p.m., with both teams taking different paths to the Eastern Conference finals.

Toronto FC battled the New York Red Bulls to win on away goals, after a 2-1 win in Red Bull Arena in the first leg, but tempers flared and the Supporters Shield winners will be without both Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore on Tuesday night. The Crew meanwhile survived an incredible 120 minutes at Atlanta United to win in a shootout, and then carried that momentum into a 4-3 aggregate victory over New York City FC.

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Now, with the Crew’s status in Columbus still up in the air, Crew fans have one chance to pack MAPFRE Stadium to support their team and prove to the league they can support an MLS franchise.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the upstart Houston Dynamo host a sold-out crowd as the defending MLS Cup champions Seattle Sounders visit, with kickoff set for 9:30 p.m.

The Dynamo stunned the injury-riddled Portland Timbers in the last round and the Dynamo has lost just once at home in MLS action this calendar year. On the other side, the Sounders are getting a major boost, with Osvaldo Alonso and Jordan Morris close to returning, either in this game or next week, and Clint Dempsey remains fit and raring to go back in his home state.

Follow all the action from tonight’s MLS Cup playoff matchups.

LAFC, Bradley add Egyptian international

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On it’s face, Los Angeles FC signing an Egyptian international may be strange.

But when you think about who’s calling the shots, it makes all the sense in the world.

LAFC coach Bob Bradley brought in a former player of his from his time with the Pharoahs, as Omar Gaber became the latest player to join the new MLS club. Gaber comes from FC Basel on a season-long loan. The 25-year-old right back has played just once for Basel in the 2017-2018 season in the league, finding himself on the outside looking in and looking for a new place to prove his fitness ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

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“I loved working with all the Egyptian players, and had a great opportunity to get to know Omar during that time,” Bradley said in a statement. “He’s always been admired by teammates and fans for his all-around contributions and willingness to give everything on the field. I am proud to welcome Omar Gaber to LAFC.”

Gaber is the fifth signing this offseason for LAFC.