HANOVER, N.J. – Few people know the East-West debate like Sacha Kljestan. Beaches vs. Broadway. Sunshine vs. snow.
The Huntington Beach native and Seton Hall graduate has been entrenched in both environments, giving him a perspective that few possess.
The 29-year-old midfielder was most recently abroad with Anderlecht in Belgium, but has traded spaces between California and the greater Metro area for the better part of his life. Growing up on the West Coast, Kljestan spent his college years in West Orange, N.J., before Chivas USA came calling. Now back in the New York area, Kljestan still feels the connections to his hometown, whose team, the LA Galaxy, will come calling for a Sunday evening matchup at Red Bull Arena (5 pm ET; ESPN2).
“Growing up in California was great,” Kljestan said. “With MLS starting in 1996 and the Galaxy being there, I was fortunate that my dad took me to a lot of Galaxy games, so I grew up as a Galaxy fan. Now my brother works for the club, so I’m pretty close with a lot of people at the LA Galaxy. Robbie Rogers is a good friend of mine; I’ve gotten to know Chris Klein over the past few years.”
Often represented in a dichotomous manner, the crown jewels of each coast claim MLS franchises with success stories as oppositional as the lifestyles of their inhabitants.
Winners of three of the last four MLS Cups, the LA Galaxy have set the pace in MLS, while New York’s failure to claim the top prize in MLS has been well documented. Although the Red Bulls tasted their first bit of glory in 2013 after lifting the Supporters’ Shield, Kljestan has seen a pattern when it comes to the top teams in MLS.
“Lets be honest, the Galaxy is [an example] of the highest standard of clubs in MLS,” he said. “We want the New York Red Bulls over the next five, six, 10 years to become what the LA Galaxy has done in the last six years.
“For me, it’s the consistency of the roster and the staff over the years. If you look at any MLS team over the past 10 years, you see that the team is a team where you have same players for six, seven years, you have the same coach for a long time, you have the same sporting director; everything is there. In MLS, you have to give a coach a couple years to build a team. You look at Real Salt Lake over the past six, seven years when Jason Kreis was there; they were the best. Seattle, LA Galaxy, those are the three over the past six, seven years that have been the top in the league.”
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With a new era underway in Harrison, Kljestan is hoping to be a centerpiece in their efforts to join the MLS elite. Patience and continuity – things that have seldom been exhibited in New York’s history, with another new head coach in Jesse Marsch at the helm after a front-office overhaul – are a necessity.
“For me, it’s about the consistency, and that’s what I hope to build here,” he said. “I hope that Jesse’s here for a long time, so is [general manager] Ali Curtis, and a lot of us older guys are still at this club for the next five, six years and that we build something.”
In years past, the Red Bulls and Galaxy have featured big-name players leading to some of the more memorable games in the leagues history.
When LA’s David Beckham lead his team into a sold out Giants Stadium, RBNY’s Juan Pablo Angel helped to produce an instant classic in the 5-4 thriller in 2007. And who can forget their 2011 playoff series as NY’s Rafa Marquez and LA’s Landon Donovon squared off in infamous fashion?
Rivalry or not, there’s no denying what it means when these two giants go head-to-head.
“I’ve never been a part of this game before,” Kljestan said. “If this is a big rivalry or not, it’s hard to call it a rivalry when we’re on opposite sides of the country. There’s not going to be visiting supporters in the stadium. But for me, it’s a big matchup.
Any way that you want to talk about it, whether it’s a big matchup without the big name DPs and things like that, it’s still going to be a very good test for us. They’re still one of the better teams in this league.”