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.”