MLS Rising Stars: Sacha Kljestan

Since his first day in MLS, Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan has been tutored by one of his boyhood heroes, a player blessed with the craft, vision and guile he himself strives to attain.

"Preki was a big role model for me growing up and when I got to work with him as an assistant coach, he helped me a lot," says Kljestan, who came via the 2006 SuperDraft to Chivas USA. "In my attacking role, he really gave me a lot of confidence. As a team figure and the head coach, he really adjusted a lot to talking to players and jelling with players to give them a good understanding of what he was trying to teach."

After Kljestan's rookie season, Bob Bradley left his post as Chivas USA head coach to take over the U.S. national team, and Preki stepped up to the Chivas job. For more than a year, Kljestan has been playing for both men as well as Olympic coach Peter Nowak in a bewildering variety of roles, assignments and competitions.

So when he came back from China in mid-August, one of his coaches decided to slow down the dizzying pace.

"It took him a little time," says Preki of Kljestan finding his feet in MLS following the Olympic Games. "I thought before he went to the Olympics, in June and July, he was very good, really on top of his game. Usually that happens with the young players when they go to the national team or the Olympics. It's all hyped up, and then it takes them a month or two to recover."

He's also had to recover from stints with the national team. In September, he came on as a sub in Havana against Cuba, and four days later played the full 90 minutes against Trinidad & Tobago in Bridgeview, Ill. Then it was back to Chivas USA for a few league matches before trips to Washington and Port of Spain, Trinidad.

In the home game against Cuba at RFK, Kljestan set up goals for DaMarcus Beasley and Brian Ching with, respectively, a clever through ball and a headed knockdown of a free kick. Bradley released nine players back to their clubs after the Cuba game, but Kljestan wasn't one of them.

"It's a lot of travel and a lot of games, but I've been able to stay healthy and I don't feel really tired," he said. "Preki and the Chivas USA coaching staff have been really good about letting me take a day off training or just riding the bike if I think I should."

Consistency on both sides of the ball is something Preki, Nowak and Bradley have been demanding from Kljestan, who is one of those supremely talented players capable of incredible feats yet occasionally prone to aimless passes.

He scored a superb goal against the Netherlands at the Olympics, sparking a series of one-twos with Freddy Adu and Stuart Holden and fending off a challenge to drill his shot into the net. But he and the Americans let a 2-1 lead slip in stoppage time, when his errant pass led to the free kick from which the Netherlands scored its equalizer in a 2-2 tie.

"He's still young [23] and he still can get better on the defensive side of the game," says Preki.

Stats
Age: 23
Position: Midfielder
Hometown: Huntington Beach, Calif.
Teams:
2003-05: Seton Hall Univ.
2006-08: Chivas USA

(This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.) 

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