Sacha Kljestan Puts on a Clinic in the U.S. Men's Soccer Victory Over Sweden

January 25, 2009

Carson, California -- Huntington Beach native Sacha Kljestan scored a hat-trick in leading the U.S. Men's National Team to a 3-2 win over Sweden in an international friendly before 9,918 fans at the Home Depot Center. The 23 year-old's breakout performance showed fans and U.S. Soccer executives that he has officially arrived, as his play demonstrated that he is now ready to provide his services on a full time basis for the Men's National Team.

Because of the absence of some of the team's regular veterans, head coach Bob Bradley had a great opportunity to test some of his younger talent. The average age of this training camp was 25.4 years, with 18 of the 22 players being MLS-based professionals.

Although the end of the game proved exciting, it started off at a crawl, as both young sides were buzzing with energy, but struggled to keep possession. The first 15 minutes provided each team with one or two advances leading to shots that were either off target or easily saved.

In the fifteenth minute, Sacha Kljestan lined up a free kick from 30-plus yards out, and blasted the back of the net with a powerful shot to the upper left corner in what was a world class finish. Swedish keeper Johan Dahlin did well to cover ground, but had no chance. Kljestan's goal gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead.

With Canadian referee Silviu Petrescu readily calling fouls on the roughhouse Swedish defense, Kljestan had several chances throughout the game to display his free kick ability. During those opportunities, Kljestan showed signs of greatness, as he hit his targets multiple times with great precision and power.

While U.S. striker Charlie Davies had a rough time against Swedish defenders, great hustle and defense kept the Swedish attack, which showed flashes of quality, at bay. U.S. defender Marvell Wynne of Poway, California, was steady throughout the game, holding it down with speed and athletic dominance over the Swedes on both defense and offense.

Wynne showed his legs and made several dangerous overlapping runs on the right side, one of which created the penalty shot that was Kljestan's second goal.

In the 38th minute, veteran Brian Ching, who gave solid distribution all game, fed a streaking Wynne into the box. Wynne turned and beat his defender, creating a great scoring opportunity. However, before Wynne could get the shot off, a Swedish defender fouled him. Kljestan then struck again for his second goal, tucking it calmly into the lower right corner and easily beating Dahlin, who dove left.

Before halftime, Swedish striker Andreas Dahl had what looked like a clear break on net with Marvel Wynne hot on his tail, but he was flagged offside. As a result, the U.S. ended the half leading 2-0.

The second half saw both teams using subs, and in the 72nd minute things started to pick up. Kljestan had another free kick opportunity, this time more to the middle and from a closer distance. With Kenny Cooper to his right, Kljestan sent the ball breaking to the left side, but the goal keeper caught it with ease.

Just after that play, Sweden's Alexander Farnerud sent a beautiful cross in from the left side that landed square on Daniel Nannskog's head to make the score 2-1. U.S. defender and California product, Jonathan Bornstein, who otherwise had a solid game at left defense, was caught chasing his man in a pleasant display of Swedish football.

Just before 74th minute, Kljestan took a nice pass inside the box from Ching, and used his left foot to slot home his third goal, completing the hat-trick. Ching was brilliant on the play, as he received a pass over his shoulder, stretched his leg out to control the ball, and fed Kljestan nicely. As Kljestan celebrated with the chanting crowd, he let everyone know who was responsible for the goal by smiling and pointing at Ching.

Ching showed Bradley that he still has some mileage left in him at this level. He was a maestro all night in the center midfield and striker position, setting players up with precision passing and timing.

The rest of the game had exciting back and forth action, as a display of counter attack style soccer ensued. Sweden had another cross to the head of Dahlberg in the 78th minute, but the striker, despite being seemingly wide-open, sent the header lobbing over the cross-bar.

The Swedish crosses kept pouring in late, and the U.S. defenders were once again punished for loose marking, as the strapping Dahlberg received yet another beautiful cross and slotted ball home. That goal cut the U.S. lead to 3-2 with approximately 5 minutes remaining.

For the last few minutes Sweden pushed hard to tie the game, but the U.S. was rock solid and even counter-attacked to end the game. Kenny Cooper found himself one-on-one with the keeper, and tried to dribble around Dahlin, but the Swede was quick off his line and grabbed the ball with his hands.

All in all, it was a beautiful night of soccer. Some of the younger players gave the fans something to cheer about and showed that U.S. Soccer has a promising future. The crowd was small, but jubilant and loud, likely due to the six local players on the field. In addition to Kljestan, Bornstein, and Wynne, three other Southern California natives played, including Danny Califf of Orange, John Thorrington of Palos Verdes, and Robbie Rogers of Huntington Beach.

The Men's National Team improved their record at the Home Depot Center to 7-0-1. The team will face Mexico on Febuary 11th in Columbus, Ohio, in a much anticipated World Cup Qualifier. Sweden will now travel north to San Jose for a friendly with Mexico next week.

By Adrian Yeung
Staff Reporter for

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