081313_isi_kljestan_usmntbb101612_22 Bill Barrett/isiphotos.com
asn exclusive

Sacha Kljestan's "Once in a Lifetime" Chance in Bosnia

In an exclusive interview with ASN correspondent Graham Ruthven, U.S. midfielder Sacha Kljestan discusses his Bosnian roots and the "once in a lifetime" aspect of Wednesday's international friendly.
BY Graham Ruthven Posted
August 13, 2013
6:04 PM
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina—Whether they're looking to secure a spot in the United States' two September World Cup qualifiers or they simply want to establish a good run of form, you can pretty much guarantee that every American player will be going full throttle in Wednesday's friendly against Bosnia.

Sacha Kljestan, however, may be operating in an even higher gear.

Kljestan has roots planted throughout the Balkan nation, with his father’s side of the family hailing from a small mountain town just hours from Sarajevo.

Had things played out a bit differently, the Anderlecht midfielder might even have been calling the Kosevo Stadium, where the U.S. will play on Wednesday (2:30 pm Eastern; ESPN2, UniMas), home.

“I was telling the guys on the field that when I was about 15 visiting family here in Sarajevo, my Dad arranged for me to train in this stadium with FK Sarajevo in the Under 16/17 team,” he told ASN. “So it’s pretty cool for me to be back here."

“Basically my whole family will be here for the game. I’ve asked for 20 tickets to try and accommodate as many of them as possible—even cousins. It’ll be a proud moment for my Dad.

"His dream was always to be a football player and now it’s neat that it has come full circle with me playing for my national team in what is basically his home city. It’s a once in a lifetime chance for me.”

Despite his roots in the area, the 27-year-old California native hasn’t visited since 2000, just a few years after the end of the bloody war that ripped the country apart.

“When I was here last time there was a [major] military presence,” Kljestan explains. “Now there’s a lot less, but you still see the odd soldier or guard carrying guns. You can see on the buildings that remnants of war still remain. It’s not an easy place; the people have had a tough time."

Kljestan’s background means he could have played for Bosnia instead of the U.S., although he is quick to say that the thought never crossed his mind.

“I mean, I could have technically played for them,” he interrupts. “But it was never an issue because I was born and grew up in the States. Plus I was never involved with the Bosnian federation at any point.”

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has selected a roster packed with Europe-based players—everyone from Michael Bradley to Jermaine Jones to Jozy Altidore to Kljestan. But does that give the U.S. an edge when faced with European opposition, like Bosnia?

“Nah, I don’t think it makes a difference,” Kljestan responded. “The MLS and Mexican [league] guys are good enough to adapt to the European game. It’s just difficult for them to fly out on Monday, play on Wednesday, and be back at their clubs for Friday.

"I think it’s normal for a single fixture like this to involve mostly European players.”

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