Oh The Places He'll Go
The kid who cannot even make the high school varsity soccer team is supposed to look for a new sport. Apparently, Sasha Kljestan never got the message.
While his future Chivas USA teammate Jonathan Bornstein was annihilating the competition in the Sunset League, winning the league’s MVP award and leading Los Alamitos High School to the CIF Championship, Kljestan could not even get onto the field for rival Huntington Beach High School. Freshman year, Kljestan was cut from the varsity team. Sophomore year, he made varsity, but only warmed the bench as his older brother Gordon starred.
Opportunity was not handed to him on a silver platter after that, either. He was not chosen for the California state Under-15 team, nor the U-17 team. When it came time to choose a college, Kljestan wanted to stay in California, but Seton Hall was the only school that pursued him. Apparently the coach there, Manny Schellscheidt, saw something in the teenager that no one else could.
Kljestan’s early struggles made it that much more improbable that he would go on to star at midfield for the Goats, play for the United States in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and now transfer to one of Europe’s top soccer clubs, Anderlecht of Belgium. And this story isn’t over yet.
“I always thought that I would [make it to the MLS], but I do not think that anyone else from Huntington Beach ever did. I was a small, skinny little kid,” Kljestan said at his farewell news conference.
In high school, Kljestan began improving by playing against his older brother’s friends, who were stronger and more experienced. Being less talented than the competition, Kljestan was forced to put forth more effort.
“Something I always say is that you have to come in and work hard everyday, and earn the respect of your teammates and coaches,” Kljestan said. “When I get over [to Anderlecht], the first thing I am going to do is work hard to try to do that.”
Given Kljestan’s reputation for hustling and playing box-to-box, it should come as no surprise the player he expects to replace him in the starting lineup.
“The kid who puts the most effort down there is Gerson Mayen,” Kljestan said. “He is a tremendous player, and I have supported him ever since first signed with the team. He is the type of kid who will sit with me for hours, and ask me questions about the league. He reminds me of myself when I was young. I would sit with Jesse [Marsch] and Ante [Razov] for hours about their past and the MLS.”
As the first American to play for Anderlecht, Kljestan will have to demonstrate his abilities to a new set of coaches and fans, but he is used to defying skeptics and exceeding expectations.
“I want to prove to them that I am good enough, and I am not just an American kid who does not play football their way,” Kljestan said. “I am going to go in and fight for a starting spot right away, and I hope to be in the lineup from the first game of the season.”