“It’s the little details that annoy me” vented an annoyed Sacha Kljestan after a home loss to Toronto FC in the first leg of the 2017 Eastern conference semis, as the captain singled out defender Amir Murillo for a mistake which gave Sebastian Giovinco the space to whip a free kick into Luis Robles’ net late in the match.
Though the MLS veteran may have gone a tad too far criticizing one of his teammates, the episode underlined Kljestan’s vocal leadership and sheer desire to win, qualities that could come in handy around Dignity Health Sports Park next season.
An argument can be had that ever since midfield engine Marcelo Sarvas was jettisoned to the Colorado Rapids following the 2014 MLS Cup triumph, the LA Galaxy have lacked a strong vocal leader capable of coaxing the best out of their teammates.
There have been hard men, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jermaine Jones chief among them, but neither one could fully keep it together when their squad failed to deliver. Jelle Van Damme had all the tools but lacked discipline. Jona dos Santos and Romain Alessandrini are warriors but they tend to let their play do the talking. Ashley Cole was a class footballer, he just wasn’t that guy. (Same for the almighty AJ DeLaGarza)
Sacha Kljestan has the potential to be that guy. A changed persona upon returning from Belgium with Anderlecht, the midfielder who infamously argued with Zlatan Ibrahimovic during a Champions League match brought intensity and accountability to Jesse Marsch’s locker room.
Leadership and 51 assists in 3 years. Kljestan led MLS in the category during the 2016 and 2017 MLS seasons, a first in league history. An excellent distributor of the ball in the final third, the Huntington Beach native has the ability to pick out teammates that’s been sorely missing in the Galaxy midfield. (While he had his moments, Atletico Tucuman’s Favio Alvarez was unable to consistently produce as a playmaker and was out of the starting lineup by the season’s end)
It will be interesting to observe how Guillermo Barros Schelotto utilizes the one-time U.S. international. At 34 years of age there are legitimate fitness concerns for Kljestan’s legs as a week-to-week starter. As an attacking specialist who can put in a 30 or 60 minute shift depending on the circumstances, Kljestan has the ability to make an impact in 2020.