Bornstein praises Kljestan's Belgian move

Chivas USA begin new era without all-time great

Sacha Kljestan is not in South Africa; the rest of the US national team has gotten used to that one. But now, for the first time in more than four years, Chivas USA will be without their star midfielder as well.

When the Goats take the field at The Home Depot Center on Saturday, they’ll do so for the first time without the 24-year-old Kljestan on their roster. That’s because the Orange County, Calif., native is now a member of Belgian club Anderlecht after finalizing his transfer this month.

Former Chivas teammate and co-captain Jonathan Bornstein is clearly happy for his close friend, and says it’s a big chance for Kljestan to realize a longtime dream.

“I’m extremely happy for him,” Bornstein said last week from US base camp. “We’ve had a lot of conversations before this about what our goals are, what are dreams of playing in Europe are, playing in other leagues.”

Bornstein isn’t the only US national-teamer close to Kljestan who is pleased with his move. Benny Feilhaber has been close with Kljestan since their days on US youth teams, while backup keeper Brad Guzan spent three seasons alongside him at Chivas. And both players think he made the right move at the right time.

“I’m happy for him,” Guzan said last week. “He’ll do well. He was at the point where he was ready to make that jump.”

According to Feilhaber, this was the best possible timing for his close friend, given that Kljestan was a late cut from the US’ World Cup roster.

“I think he’ll build on the three, four years he’s had with the national team,” said Feilhaber. “Obviously it’s really disappointing for him – I was upset for him as well that he didn’t make the final 23. But I think it will make him hungrier to make the next team.”

Where that leaves Chivas USA is another story. According to Bornstein, it’s going to be tough for the Red-and-White to recover from the loss of their most influential player and the rudder of the side over the past two-plus seasons. Kljestan isn’t just the all-time leader in assists in club history (30), he also holds the record for most games played in a Chivas jersey (112).

Now, without Kljestan in the middle of the pitch, Martín Vásquez will officially be in rebuilding mode. The first-year head coach is taking his lumps, with his team in the cellar of the Western Conference while he tries to make over the roster and install a more attack-minded system than Chivas had in three seasons under former coach Preki.

“It’s very tough news,” said Bornstein, who was selected by Chivas USA along with Kljestan in the 2006 SuperDraft. “Hopefully when I’m back [from the World Cup], we can turn things around. We’re definitely going to miss Sacha. He’s been there since I’ve been there.”

But Guzan believes Vásquez – a longtime assistant coach at Chivas – will be able to retool his squad without Kljestan. It just may take some time, said the backup US keeper.

“Knowing Martín, he’ll look for the right direction to take that team in, and given some time, he’ll find it,” the Aston Villa backup said last week. “He’s got the foundation to go in the right direction. How long it will take is anyone’s guess.”

MLSsoccer.com managing editor Jonah Freedman is reporting from South Africa all this month.