Join Now | 
HomeAboutContact UsPrivacy & SecurityAdvertise
Soccer America DailySoccer World DailySpecial EditionAround The NetSoccer Business InsiderCollege Soccer ReporterYouth Soccer ReporterSoccer on TVSoccer America ClassifiedsGame Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalkSoccer America ConfidentialYouth Soccer InsiderWorld Cup Watch
RSS FeedsArchivesManage SubscriptionsSubscribe
Order Current IssueSubscribeManage My SubscriptionRenew My SubscriptionGift Subscription
My AccountJoin Now
Tournament CalendarCamps & AcademiesSoccer GlossaryClassifieds
A Kljestan Move: Pros & Cons
by Ridge Mahoney, January 26th, 2009 5PM

MOST READ

MOST COMMENTED

Watching Sacha Kljestan take apart Sweden Saturday at Home Depot Center could convince anyone he's primed and ready for a move overseas, yet success isn't preordained for young Americans going to top-flight teams.

And it may not be the best move for Kljestan at this point in his career, unless Celtic sees in him the talents and attributes it needs in the next few months, not in a few years.

If Americans go to top-level teams as players destined to fight for a place among the regulars, the experience can be discouraging and daunting, yet no different than that faced by most other first-team prospects. Starts and playing time are earned, not doled out benevolently, and so the strongest and sharpest fare best.

Clint Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra both went to English Premier League club Fulham with a few years of MLS experience, and as foreign players expected to contribute sooner rather than later. Dempsey has recently regained a place in the starting lineup; Bocanegra left last summer for Rennes after playing more than 100 EPL games in 4 and a half seasons.

They didn't start every game and sometimes waited weeks on the bench for a few minutes of action. Welcome to the real world. That might be Kljestan's fate.

But if they are regarded as long-term projects despite a few years of MLS experience, they can languish rather than flourish at a critical phase in their careers. The difference in age between Kljestan (23) and Jozy Altidore (19) is a vast one; Altidore, with less than two years of MLS experience prior to joining Villarreal last summer, may chafe sitting on the bench, but the lessons he learns in training and limited action are valuable; whereas for Kljestan, should he be mired behind five other central midfielders on the Celtic roster, would quickly stagnate.

Kljestan is far from the finished, polished professional prototype, yet he needs games, pressure, battles and conflicts to sharpen his vision and skills, as well as the other elements of playing central midfield. At HDC on Saturday, yes, he scored with a stunning free kick, clinical penalty, and precise first-time strike, yet he also covered a lot of ground in midfield, passed smartly, and did his share of tracking back and tackling.

Coaches Preki, Bob Bradley and Peter Nowak have been harping on Kljestan for years about broadening his game, and he's responded well, if not magnificently. They don't expect him to turn into Gennaro Gattuso, the hard-nosed midfielder of Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning team, but they do insist on effort, commitment, and concentration. As will Celtic coach Gordon Strachan, among others.

Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini isn't concerned with Jozy 2010, per se, and won't be influenced one iota by his prospects in South Africa. He doesn't want Altidore out somewhere on loan, at least not yet; the coach intends to observe and critique and shape this exciting young prospect by daily criticism and counseling.

Theoretically, Altidore going on loan could increase his playing time, but only if that team is in desperate need of help up top, and is willing to throw him straight into the lineup. Is Altidore ready to face experienced La Liga defenders week after week bearing the staggering responsibility to score or else? Is that the best environment at this stage of his development? The answers are no, and definitely not.

In the case of Altidore playing on loan for a struggling team and not scoring off the bat, he could be benched by a coach far less interested in his long-term development. Going to a team in a lower division or another league is an option but not necessarily a viable one. Just ask Freddy Adu, stuck on the bench at Monaco while on loan from Benfica.

There's no sadder case than that of Adu, who played far more than his performance merited in MLS, and now can't find a European club willing to put him on the field. In effect, he's the same age as Altidore with far more pro experience, but in a much worse position. Dues are usually paid up front but not in Adu's case.

At Glasgow Rangers, there are two Americans pining for playing time. Maurice Edu, who turns 23 in April and won the league's Rookie of the Year award in 2007, has barely played since moving to Scotland after the 2008 Olympic Games. DaMarcus Beasley, a veteran of the 2002 and 2006 World Cups yet still only 26, has been sidelined by injuries. He's at the stage of his career at which every game missed sets him back a little more.

Edu has expressed disappointment about his lack of playing time yet is growing as a player and a person just by being in a foreign country and training every day. But those benefits will soon fade.

Maybe a move to Rangers with a year and a half of pro experience wasn't in Edu's best interests, but Rangers offered $5 million. TFC and MLS said yes. If Celtic is offering $2.9 million, as has been reported, is that sufficient for Kljestan's three years of service to Chivas USA, and the year remaining on his contract? Or should Chivas USA take the same stance as did FC Dallas with Kenny Cooper last summer, and just say no?

A move to Celtic or any club has short-term implications - next summer's Confederations Cup and Gold Cup, the 2010 World Cup - for Kljestan and Bradley, as well as long-term effects on both player and coach. But once out of MLS, the player's learning curve steepens sharply, and not everybody ascends it steadily.

 



No comments yet.

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now




AUTHORS

ARCHIVES
FOLLOW SOCCERAMERICA

Recent Soccer America Confidential
MLS teams San Jose and Houston in transition take on new identities    
The Quakes and Dynamo are linked by a common history and the return of Dominic Kinnear ...
Defending MLS champs seldom look the part in post-Donovan days    
Drab draw with the Rapids extended unbeaten run to four games, yet the Galaxy is still ...
Revs are running on all cylinders     
What other MLS team can afford to bring Jose Goncalves and Lee Nguyen, both MLS Best ...
MLS: The Best of April    
Great drama on the international stage brought MLS notoriety and many teams began to forge their ...
Impact players 'give it up' to Club America    
A 4-2 defeat in the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League final left Montreal players ...
Impact fans will get the last laugh at Big O    
Let's hope Wednesday night's Montreal Impact-Club America game for Concacaf supremacy lives up to the pregame ...
Sigi Schmid: MLS clubs are 'committed to win the CCL'    
Seattle Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid is looking forward to the big game in Montreal Wednesday ...
Chicago is on Fire, Accam puts MLS on warning    
The hottest team in MLS is the Chicago Fire. It took a gap of almost three ...
MLS = Mostly Low Scoring. That's a Problem.     
The American fan has an extensive menu of soccer available this and every weekend, as U.S. ...
Nice win underlines U-23 issues     
I didn't have great expectations Wednesday for the U-23 friendly between the U.S. and Mexico at ...
>> Soccer America Confidential Archives