It was supposed to be a triumphant homecoming for Sacha Kljestan.
The Southern California native returned to the area this year to play for the LA Galaxy. The 34-year-old spent a decade away, playing in Belgium for Anderlecht, and in MLS for the New York Red Bulls and Orlando City SC.
After starting the first two games of the current season, Kljestan told LAG Confidential in an exclusive interview last week he’s willing to be flexible in terms of his role on the team, after serving mostly as a reserve in Orlando. But make no mistake, he is happy to start.
“From my perspective, first and foremost, I prepare myself to think, in my mentality and the way I train and prepare myself and my body, every day I prepare as if I should be a starting player on the team,” Kljestan said. “So in the end that decision gets made by the coaching staff and I always respect the decision. If Guillermo [Barros Schelotto, LA’s head coach] says to me I’m going to start this game but I’m not going to start the next one, or he sees me strictly as the guy who’s gonna come off the bench, I’m all for it, because at this point in my career I just want to play for a good team that’s going to compete for a championship and try to make myself an important part of the team, regardless of my role on the field.
“Obviously I would prefer to be a starter every game. I enjoy playing the games. I hate sitting on the sidelines and not being able to affect the game in a more positive way than when I am on the field, so if it were my choice I’d play 90 minutes every game. I know as I’m getting older that might not be possible with all the games that come up over the course of the season and I’m perfectly fine with that,” he added.
When asked to assess the Galaxy’s season so far, with a draw at the Houston Dynamo and a shock loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, Kljestan admitted it’s been a bumpy start.
“I think on a personal level I think I had a very good preseason and I think I was integrated well into the team and received well by my teammates and the coaching staff,” he said. “I think on a team level we would say we’re disappointed with the start of the season, I think the result in Houston was probably fair, 1-1 draw and I think you’ll take that on the road, early in the season.
“The home game against Vancouver obviously we did not play very well, I don’t think we were dangerous. Just overall was a bad night, which was very disappointing because there was a lot of positive energy from the crowd that night. It was sold out. It was awesome for me personally to be back playing, you know, in that stadium that I basically grew up in, I say. Very disappointed. So, we were all very excited to go down to Miami and open their stadium and their first home game and all that, spoil the party for them. Because anytime you lose a game, especially when you lose at home you just can’t wait for that next game because it’s almost like if you get a win in that next game, it makes up for a previous loss. I think we were disappointed not to be able to play that third game and so on, and not so happy with how we started the season.”
Like everyone else, Kljestan is experiencing the coronavirus shutdown as a brand-new experience, with no blueprint in mind.
He said that his veteran status and the current stage of his life has helped in some respects, while he’s also mulling over the implications for the remainder of his career.
“I’m trying to think about both sides here which has gone back and forth in my head, you know, over the past month or so. On one side, I’m an older guy, I have a family so I’ve got a wife and two kids at home with me and I’ve got them to take care of and try to keep the kids entertained while also trying to keep myself fit. So mentally I’m pretty stimulated. Whereas on the other hand if this was 10-plus years ago and I was a young guy and I was single, and I was living on my own then I know these types of days, I think it’s very difficult for some of those guys. I think maybe the single guys on our team, you know, mentally, this can get very boring, and taxing and you start to have a lot of doubts at that point. So, for me, being this age, this part for me off the field stuff, it’s okay. I’m handling it really well.
“And then the doubt starts to creep into the back of my mind, which I’m trying to keep out of my mind, that how long this lasts, taking up valuable years of the ending part of my career, which sucks, I want to play as many games as possible. But I think I’ve done a good job of not being too down about missing too many games right now at this point in my career,” Kljestan added.
Compounding the crisis from an MLS point of view in Kljestan’s mind is the league just coming off an overly-long offseason.
“I think, for the on the field type stuff, yeah I miss it every day,” he said. “I miss training. When I get into the offseason — our offseason is way too long, by the way — after three or four weeks, I’m already itching to get back in the locker room and get back into a real competitive environment to see how good I can be every day. So I certainly miss the guys right now and I missed the competitive environment of training.”
While the homecoming hasn’t yet been what Kljestan hoped it would be, the Galaxy midfielder believes we need to stay the course in the pandemic so we can resume our everyday lives again.
“We’re all just doing our best, trying to be responsible and it is what it is. It sucks but I think we’ve all got to do what we’ve got to do to try to make this thing better, but we come back, we all come back strong and healthy and safe,” he said.
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