CHARLOTTE — Sacha Kljestan shared a touching story on Friday, ahead of the LA Galaxy’s MLS regular season match against Charlotte FC on Saturday.
Kljestan relayed a chance meeting he had in a hotel with the parents of Chris Hegardt, a rookie midfielder with Charlotte. It turns out, when Hegardt was a boy, he met Kljestan in 2010 in Los Angeles while the youngster was undergoing treatment for liver cancer.
Kljestan said he gave him a jersey at the time, and he hoped Hegardt would return the favor, all these years later and with Hegardt a healthy young man now playing in the same league as the Galaxy man.
My wife and I visited this young man back in 2010 at Children’s Hospital LA. Today I ran into his parents in our hotel lobby in Charlotte. His name is Chris Hegardt and he’s a rookie midfielder for @CharlotteFC. I gave him a jersey once, hopefully he will give me his tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/NhXiVIAGzp— Sacha Kljestan (@SachaKljestan) March 4, 2022
On Saturday during the game, both midfielders came off the bench, Kljestan early in the 2nd half, Hegardt with just a few minutes to go in the game.
And after the final whistle, with the Galaxy coming away 1-0 winners courtesy of an Efrain Alvarez golazo, Kljestan and Hegardt had their moment together, with the players swapping jerseys.
Naturally, Kljestan was asked about the exchange and the entire story after the game, and he was philosophical about it.
“The whole thing is crazy,” he began. “Like, you visit kids in the hospital sometimes and then you never hear from them again, or sometimes you hear the worst. So, for him, it had been so long that when I saw his mom in the lobby yesterday and she approached me, it was just so crazy. Then she told me he was playing for Charlotte, and I was like ‘Oh in the academy?’ And she was like, ‘No, the first team.’ And I was like, man this is crazy. He beat it and he kept on pushing himself and ended up having a great college career and now turning pro at a young age, was fun to watch him play tonight.
“I think for me, the whole moral of the story there is just, be a good person. It cost me nothing to be kind to him and his family that day, and if it just gave him one percent of hope or just made him smile a little bit that day, then it was all worth it. I think he comes from a great family. Now that I have kids, I can’t imagine what his parents were thinking that day, when they saw their kid in the hospital having to go into surgery. If that was my kid, I would be thinking the worst. Never in a million years I would guess that they were thinking that one day we would actually play against each other on a professional soccer field, but his parents were in the stadium today watching him play in front of 75,000 fans. That’s pretty special,” Kljestan continued.
And while Kljestan never expected he’d share a field with the boy in the hospital, he was grateful for the experience.
“I was happy that we both ended up on the field in the second half. I think that was a special ribbon to put on the end of that. He’s on his second game as a professional and I’m probably at my 650th, so we are at different stages in our careers, but it was still amazing to be on the field with Chris and in five to ten minutes he showed that he has some real quality. He is a savvy little player, and he was getting the ball back on his right foot and trying to make some plays. I congratulated him after the game and I told him he could reach out to me whenever he wants, if he wants advice or anything like that. I am looking forward to watching him for hopefully a long career,” he said.
If this doesn’t bring a smile to your face, I’m not sure what will.
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