JACKSONVILLE — Sacha Kljestan leads Major League Soccer in assists, boasts the highest Audi Player Index of any player eligible for the U.S. men’s national team, and has scored as many club goals as Jozy Altidore this season. But he thought he was the victim of a cruel joke when he was told he had gotten a call-up for the USMNT for the first time in more than two years.
“To be honest, I thought someone might have been pranking me,” Kljestan said Tuesday at USMNT training. “I got a text message from an Orange County phone number where I grew up and my brother lives. I thought maybe one of my friends was pulling my leg. Then [USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann] called me, and then a few minutes later we spoke on the phone. Obviously, I’m glad to be back. I feel like the last couple of years I have had a good season. I’m pretty excited to be here and prove my case.”
Kljestan has tallied a league-leading 15 assists in 24 club matches this season, and 29 overall since returning to MLS prior to the 2015 season. His last USMNT appearance was in a March 2014 loss to the Ukraine in Cyprus. He started in that match, but was subbed out for Aron Johannsson in the 63rd minute as the Americans searched for a tying goal that never arrived.
But then Michael Bradley got suspended for Friday’s World Cup Qualifying match against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, due to yellow card accumulation. Jermaine Jones also remains a fitness question mark. That afforded Kljestan another opportunity for his country.
“He said that a couple of guys that are out for this game and it’s a chance for me to prove my case,” Kljestan said. “I’m an older guy now. I know what the deal is. I know what’s going on. Any way I can get here, I’m happy to be here. I know it’s up to me to just do my thing.”