CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy’s Sacha Kljestan couldn’t resist meeting up with Jonathan Bernstein, a former Chivas USA teammate and fellow veteran of the U.S. Men’s National Team before Saturday’s preseason finale against the Chicago Fire at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Kljestan, a Huntington Beach native, and Bornstein, originally from Torrance and now playing for the Fire, had what Kljestan called “a good chat,” much of it about playing on the Galaxy’s home turf as members of the opposition. Kljestan couldn’t help but smile at those memories.
“I think he might be a little jealous that I’m back here now,” Kljestan said after scoring the Galaxy’s lone goal in a 1-1 tie in front of a crowd of 12,783. “We left as single guys, and now we’re back married with multiple kids, both of us.
“He said his whole family was sitting up in a suite tonight watching him, so I know that’s always special. I know it was for me to come back here to play against the Galaxy because I knew I had a lot of family in town that enjoyed coming to these games.
“So that part for me was special,” he went on. “I’ll never forget that.”
The 34-year-old Kljestan, who signed with the Galaxy in December and is about to begin his 11th season in Major League Soccer, clearly is in a good place at this stage of his career. He might not be a full-time starter, not with a loaded midfield already in place, but head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto felt his experience would prove invaluable when the team initially made inquiries about acquiring Kljestan last year.
“When we brought him here, we saw experience,” Schelotto said. “He’s very smart … I think that’s one of his best qualities. He really understands the game well.
“I’m very happy with him, his preseason was really good. He’s at a really good level.”
Kljestan, who played for Orlando City in 2018 and 2019 before joining the Galaxy as a free agent, arrived in Los Angeles prepared to meet the physical requirements of Galaxy fitness coach Javier Valdecantos, who has run punishing workouts the last two years.
“Personally, I feel really good,” he said. “I knew that the coaching staff was going to demand a lot from us physically, so I prepared a lot for that in the off-season. It’s a really long off-season, so it’s annoying to try to work out on your own for three months to try to stay fit.
“I came in physically in good shape, I got pushed a lot in the first two weeks of preseason, and I think I came through it stronger. So that’s good. I feel I’m in really good shape right now, I feel like I’m in a good zone of knowing exactly what the coaching staff wants from me and trying to implement that and also try to be a leader and help the guys on the field understand what we’re trying to be.
“So I feel good,” he said. “My goal is to play as many games as possible and help the team win the championship.”
And if he scores his share of goals like Saturday’s goal, so much the better. He was deep in the Chicago penalty area when a succession of three shot attempts resulted in him chipping in a rebound from point-blank range.
“I made a run in the box, and I think I had good timing,” he said of the play. “The ball came across, and the ball popped to me. I thought I was going to score on the first one, unfortunately, the keeper saved it. It popped back to me, laid it off to Chicharito, who didn’t really hit it clean, and it just came right back to me, and I popped it in the net.”
The Galaxy most assuredly aren’t looking for Kljestan to light up the scoreboard, but sometimes intangibles can make a difference. If they wanted someone who knows the game’s intricacies and can set a good example, Kljestan fits the bill.
“I wouldn’t say experience, but I think the soccer I.Q.,” he said of his strengths and what he can bring to the five-time MLS Cup champions. “Yes, experience helps. I think I’ve played in 500 or 600 games now in my career. You’ve seen it all before at a different point, and you have to draw from those experiences.
“But mentality-wise, I think, yeah, I’ve always been known for having a good mentality and pushing through things. Knowing what it takes to make it at this level, I don’t think I’d be around this long if I didn’t know what it takes and what is demanded of me every day.
“I think being the oldest guy on the team by a few years and making sure I’m out there every day in training giving 100 percent that that part will rub off on the younger guys,” he continued. “And I think it has so far. I’m happy with the way I’ve gone about things since I got here.
“I think the coaching staff is happy with it, too, and I hope we continue to just push this forward, and the whole group continues to improve over the season.”