There was much to be admired in the USA’s 2-0 win over Mexico in their World Cup qualifier last night—a passionate pro-American crowd in Columbus, another authoritative display by Tim Howard, Frankie Hedjuk’s insatiable appetite to attack, the craft of DaMarcus Beasley on the left flank, the industry of Clint Dempsey on the right, and, of course, the goalscoring exploits of Michael Bradley.
If there was one disappointment, it was the performance of Sacha Kljestan. The Chivas midfielder’s effort was highly commendable, but he was guilty of surrendering possession far too easily on far too many occasions. But even this negative will have a silver lining for head coach Bob Bradley in the coming months.
Kljestan is one of a number of young American players to have impressed me during my two years following Major League Soccer. A work trip to the West Coast in August 2007 allowed me to attend a SuperClasico where Kljestan inspired Chivas to a 3-0 whipping of L.A. Galaxy with his field coverage, his intelligent counter-attacking, and his acute passing—traits which he continues to hone.
The 23-year-old Californian made his international debut two months prior to that match in a 4-1 friendly win over China before gaining valuable experience as a member of Bradley’s experimental Copa America squad that summer.
He received minimal playing time as a substitute over the next year, but his impressive displays for the US Olympic Team in China last August, particularly in the 2-2 draw with fancied Holland, saw him emerge as a regular starter in CONCACAF’s previous qualifying round.
Last night, however, heralded a huge step-up in opposition.
Kljestan entered the game full of confidence after training with Celtic in January before returning to notch a hat-trick—his first international goals—in the 3-2 friendly win over Sweden. His hopes of a permanent transfer were thwarted by the Glasgow club’s unwillingness to match MLS’ valuation of the player, but a move to Europe in the near future remains probable.
Coach Bradley took a risk in selecting Kljestan ahead of the tried and trusted Ricardo Clark, Houston Dynamo’s combative holding midfielder, but the collective spirit of his Stars and Stripes team ensured that the gamble did not backfire.
For Kljestan, he now knows what it is like to play at the highest level. The experience will stand him, and the US, in good stead for this summer’s Confederations’ Cup and hopefully in next summer’s World Cup Finals.
This article first appeared on www.hawksport.com.