OBETZ, Ohio – It’s been seven years since Sacha Kljestan stepped onto the field for a US national team showdown with Mexico in Columbus.
The midfielder played alongside Michael Bradley in 2009 when the Yanks won 2-0 thanks to two Bradley goals in a storm of sleet and hail, one of the most memorable events in the “Dos a Cero” history of this rivalry.
Kljestan remembers that day well, and said he’s been hoping for another chance. And after years away from the national team, his recent resurgence could put him in play to get another shot at Mexico in Columbus on Friday (7:45 pm ET, FS1, Univision).
“I’m very excited,” Kljestan said at the USMNT's training session in suburban Columbus on Tuesday. “This is obviously one of the bigger games of the year for us. For me, personally, having played here in 2009 and that qualifier where we won 2-0 was always a great moment for me, a special moment. One of my favorite national team games ever. So to be back here with another chance to start the Hex off right, I’m very excited.”
Kljestan laughed at the idea of being able to partner again with Bradley after seven years.
He admitted he had “probably not” imagined it happening again, but said he’s always kept his USMNT hopes alive.
“I always try to do my best to get myself back into the national team, so obviously you have these dreams of playing in these types of games,” he said. “I remember watching the CONCACAF Cup at the Rose Bowl and just wishing to be a part of that game. So you always wanted to be a part of it. I’ve always had the dream and the hope to do it, and I’m very happy to be here and thankful to be back.”
But when Kljestan takes the field Friday, he’ll look a little different than last time.
Thanks to a clash with Montreal Impact midfielder Marco Donadel in Sunday’s Eastern Conference Semifinal second-leg match, Kljestan arrived at USMNT training with a swollen face and a crooked nose that will necessitate a little extra headgear on Friday.
“It’s broken in a couple of places,” he said with a smile. “It was a pretty bad hit, but I think they’re going to build me a mask and I’ll be OK. It will be interesting, but I’ll get used to it quickly and I’ll be ready to go.”
Kljestan said he had never broken his nose before, and only recently began breathing through his nose again. He said he was told it was “a couple of clean little breaks,” and said he feels all right. But in the moment, it seemed more intense.
“I had never seen so much blood,” he said. “The difficult part for me was that the blood was coming down my throat, so they didn’t want to let me back on the field until it stopped going down my throat and was just coming out of my nose.”
But dealing with the outcome of that match may be more challenging than dealing with his nose. The 2-1 loss to the Impact – in which Kljestan had a penalty kick saved – knocked the New York Red Bulls out of the playoffs, a disappointing end to the season for the East’s top seeds.
Kljestan admitted it’s tough to rebound from the heartbreak, but feels fortunate to have a Mexico game to look forward to.
“Yesterday was difficult,” he said. “The motivation to get out of bed in the morning and get ready to leave for a trip was difficult. But on the horizon is USA-Mexico, which is a huge game. So I guess I’m fortunate compared to some of my teammates at the Red Bulls that I get to re-energize myself with a huge game Friday.”