Sacha Kljestan gets the game-winner in an impressive come-back effort from the LA Galaxy on Sunday afternoon.
Sacha Kljestan will be the first to admit the 2020 Major League Soccer season was a major disappointment for him.
The veteran midfielder, in his first season with the five-time MLS Cup champions, failed to score and the team not only missed the playoffs but finished an embarrassing 10th in the Western Conference.
But all of those memories gave way to one of his happiest ones, his game-winning goal in the 81st minute of Sunday’s come-from-behind, 3-2 victory over Inter Miami CF at DRV PNK Stadium.
“This goal feels good because I didn’t score any goals last year,” he said after the win, the Galaxy’s first in a season opener on the road since 2011. The goal also was Kljestan’s first in MLS since March 23, 2019, when he scored the game-winner for his former MLS Club, Orlando City, in a 1-0 triumph over Real Salt Lake.
“And just to start the season on a good note is always a good feeling. I’m pretty happy right now.”
The Galaxy had tied the match behind Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s second goal in the 73rd minute when Oniel Fisher sent a pass deep into the penalty area to Hernandez, but the ball was deflected to Sebastian Lletget. Lletget, with his back to the goal, nudged the ball to Kljestan standing just inside the penalty area and Kljestan left fly with a left-footed shot that curled around Inter Miami defender Nicolas Figal and glanced off the post into the net. Inter Miami goalkeeper John McCarthy never moved on the stunning play.
“Obviously it felt really good,” Kljestan said matter-of-factly. “To get one off the mark in the first game and also help us win, it feels really good. It’s funny because I scored very similar to that in training yesterday off the other post with my right foot.
“I work a lot around the box and I still feel I can improve every day, so I work on my finishing all the time. When you get one chance to bury it obviously it makes a difference in the game. Seb (Lletget) did a really good job laying it off because he was facing backwards. It would have been hard for him to turn and shoot, so I just tried to put it in the corner and fortunately it went in.”
Kljestan was a second-half substitute (in the 72nd minute) for Jonathan dos Santos, one of several tactical changes employed by head coach Greg Vanney that helped turn the game in the Galaxy’s favor.
“The first half was very tactical. Miami was very organized,” Kljestan said. “In the second half, they really started to tire. Spaces were opening up and there was more time on the ball. They weren’t getting back as much, they weren’t chasing as much, so I think their fatigue almost gave us energy.
“The other thing is the guys who got subbed into the game came in with a lot of energy. Ethan Zubak, just by running behind, opened up space for Chicharito and Sebastian. (Carlos) Harvey came in and did a good job. (Cameron) Dunbar came in and was working hard, running forward.
“The subs made an impact in the second half and they started to tire.”
Not Kljestan, who despite turning 36 in September feels he has a lot left. And he proved it Sunday.
“There was never any question in my mind whether I was going to play this season or not,” he said. “I feel good physically, I feel great mentally. Despite being the older guy I still feel very connected to the younger guys on the team and I enjoy being around the boys and I enjoy training every day and all that stuff.
“The feeling in the group right now, the way we are with each other, the way we enjoy being around each other, the camaraderie, the brotherhood, all of that has been at a really high level.
“I think we can all be proud of the effort that everybody put in today,” he continued. “Everyone is ecstatic for Chicharito to get two goals in the first game. Really, the group is feeling really good right now. I think we deserved to win, so it’s been pretty fun.”