Kljestan shines in dull U.S. victory over Sweden.
By Robert Wagman
(Saturday, January 24, 2009) -- Getting three goals from midfielder Sacha Kljestan, the United States men hung on for a surprisingly dull and not particularly convincing 3-2 victory over Sweden in a friendly before 9,918 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. tonight.
Kljestan was the hero of the match, scoring first in the 17th minute on a blistering free kick that left Swedish keeper Johan Dahlin clawing at air. He converted a penalty kick in the 40th minute after sending Dahlin the wrong way and closed out his hat trick in the 74th minute, roaring into the penalty area after striker Brian Ching had laid a ball in his path and ripping a shot into the net.
The match began slowly. Except for Kljestan's two dead-ball strikes, both sides combined for just one shot on goal in the first 45 minutes.
The pace quickened a bit after intermission, but the match did not become interesting until Swedish coach Lars Lagerbäck made three substitutions in the middle of the second half. Sweden has a match against Mexico in San Francisco coming up Wednesday and Lagerbäck had kept four of his best available players with him on the bench. He inserted midfielders Rasmus Elm, Martin Ericsson and Alexander Farnerud at the same time U.S. coach Bob Bradley was pulling starters out. Resultantly, Sweden took control of the midfield over the closing 20 minutes and effectively attacked down the wings, especially on its left side, sandwiching a pair of goals around Kljestan's third tally.
"It's important to start the year off with a win," said Bradley, who opened the calendar year with a victory for the third straight time since taking over in late 2006. "When you're in a long camp, with three weeks and a lot of work, it's nice at the end to have the reward of winning. From a coaching standpoint there's always going to be things, at this time of year, that you feel good about, and there's always going to be things that need improvement."
This was not so much a match between two national teams as a scrimmage between a pair of "B" teams in preseason training. Both lineups were filled by players who had not played a competitive match in months. The U.S. roster was filled by Major League Soccer players who do not start club training until later this month or by out-of-season European-based Americans. Swedish coach Lars Lagerbäck brought only players from Sweden's Allsvenskan, which has the same March-to-October season as MLS.
Only four Swedish players -- defender Max von Schlebrügge, and midfielders Daniel Andersson, Rasmus Elm and Samuel Holmén -- were dressed for Sweden's last World Cup 2010 qualifier, a 0-0 home draw with Portugal in October. Only Andersson played.
Bradley's pre-game training camp was not what he hoped with a number of players leaving injured. Defenders Chad Marshall (knee), Sean Franklin (sports hernia) and Clarence Goodson (ankle surgery) had to pull out of camp after aggravating pre-existing problems. Defender Jason Hernandez pulled a calf muscle and midfielder Geoff Cameron suffered a hamstring strain. Defender Cory Gibbs did not even report because of an injury,
Kljestan missed a week of camp to try out at Glasgow Celtic, while goalkeeper Troy Perkins went to Norway to join his Valerenga IF teammates for team-bonding exercises, including a multi-day encampment with Norwegian Special Forces troops.
Michael Parkhurst was summoned by Bradley from his Danish club FC Nordsjælland because of the shortage of defenders and trained for only a few days.
Yet, no matter how drab the affair, the U.S. opened 2009 on the winning side and fans were heartened to witness Kljestan coming of age with the first three goals of his international career.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Troy Perkins - 5: Did fine until he actually had to face a shot and then was quite shaky over the final 15 minutes, allowing a pair of goals he might have stopped.
Defender Marvell Wynne 5: At times, he displays amazing pace, but he still lacks in soccer sense. Was responsible for both Swedish goals by lax marking, which allowed crosses that should have been contested.
Defender Michael Parkhurst - 6.5: Summoned into camp late when other defenders went down with injuries, he had a strong match although not put under a great deal of pressure. Started to wilt near the end before being replaced.
Defender Danny Califf - 5.5: Generally had a strong night, but might have done more on both Sweden goals.
Defender Jonathan Bornstein - 5.5: He seems to have recovered from a year and a half of injuries, but still lacks fitness. He slowed in the second half and lost his mark on the first Swedish goal.
Midfielder John Thorrington - 5: Was really good at times, but decidedly less so at others. A spotty performance that probably will not help his cause for playing time in upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Midfielder Ricardo Clark - 5.5: Another up-and-down performer whose good moments probably outweighed the bad. Needs to play with more consistency and more intensity.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan - 8: Quite simply, the best player on the field and not just for his three goals. Made a statement that he should be in the lineup in Columbus in three weeks for the qualifier against Mexico and that Celtic should move quickly to spend the $3 million MLS is asking before the transfer window closes February 2.
Midfielder Robbie Rogers - 4: A dreadful performance. Did little right, except a few corner kicks.
Forward Charlie Davies - 4.5: Showed pace, but little else and had no impact on the match in his 45 minutes.
Forward Brian Ching - 7: Worked tirelessly, often dropping far back to get the ball. His assist on the third U.S. goal was a highlight-film type of effort and a textbook example of why he gets first-team minutes.
Forward Kenny Cooper (46th minute for Davies) - 5: Had little impact in his half.
Defender Chris Wingert (61st minute for Thorrington) - 5: Did not do as well as the player he replaced.
Midfielder Brian Carroll (69th minute for Rogers) - 5: If his role was to be a controlling force in the center of midfield, he did not achieve that goal.
Midfielder Eddie Gaven (77th minute for Ching) - 5.5: Had some good moments, mainly in a defensive role.
Forward Chris Rolfe (79th minute for Clark) - 5: Became the second striker with Ching out. Had a couple of chances, but not much of a finish.
Defender Ugo Ihemelu (82nd minute for Parkhurst) - 5.5: Helped close out the match, but not much else in a short performance.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Sacha Kljestan
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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