US Stars to Watch in the 2013-14 Champions League Group Stages
There are only two United States men’s national team players participating in the 2013-14 Champions League group stage this year: the slick center midfielder, Sacha Kljestan, and the hard-nosed true No. 6, Jermaine Jones.
Manageable Champions League draws for Sacha Kljestan, Jermaine Jones. Carlos Vela and Chicharito in the same group. #CONCACAF— Avi Creditor (@AviCreditor) August 29, 2013
In Kljestan, U.S. fans get to watch a creative maestro in the middle of the park. The Anderlecht man is one of the most technical midfielders in the U.S. player pool. He can thread passes into dangerous areas and has expert technique.
He also has the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, utilizing small touches close to his body. The Seton Hall alumnus finds space others simply do not in the crowded midfield third thanks to a well-rounded attacking game. He uses all parts of his feet to great effect.
Kljestan can find the back of the net. He proved that in earnest by his ridiculous hat trick for the USMNT against Sweden in a friendly in 2009 during the January camp. His willingness to get into the box was on full display during that match.
The American’s touch in front of goal is sublime as well, as he can pick out areas of the goal that are difficult to reach for the goalkeeper. He can strike from distance when necessary, too, forcing defending to cover him well beyond the box.
His weaknesses are in defending, as he is often criticized for being soft in the tackle and slow to track runners entering the attacking third of the field.
Indeed, Kljestan’s mettle will certainly be tested in the most competitive club competition in world football.
As for Jones, USMNT fans get to witness true destroyer when he is on the field. The German-American is a player who can break up another team’s counter with long-distance recovery runs and expert, tough-tackling. The Schalke midfielder cuts down passing angles with a high work rate and has an intelligent anticipatory first step to intercept passes.
Jones can move the ball in tight areas. He has a serviceable first touch and is capable of one- and two-touch football. He can also spring runners into space with longer chipped service. Both his left and right feet are sufficient enough to keep up with the high level required to play in the UEFA Champions League.
Where Jones is often criticized is in his propensity to pick up yellow cards. He can sometimes overcommit and concede fouls that are not necessary. He will need to be sure to keep his body under control and to not dive in when attempting to win the ball off an attacker's feet.
Both players should represent the Yanks with impressive footballing prowess in the most prestigious club soccer competition in the world.
Which American are you more excited to watch in the UEFA Champions League in 2013-14?
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