Jurgen Klinsmann is the Petty King. He’s got a few of the tendencies of a high schooler. Or a disgruntled ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend who blocks their past flame across every medium of communication except for a small window to text them Game of Thrones spoilers before they have a chance to watch it. Then block them again before they can respond.
Klinsmann also has an ego, but what high-level professional player doesn’t? His pettiness is what matters and what’s evident. Just ask Landon Donovan, who was ostracized from the 2014 World Cup. Donovan’s dropping from the team that went to Brazil was nothing more than a power move from Klinsmann. Unless, of course, you’re of the opinion that if given the choice to pick three out of Donovan, Brad Davis, Chris Wondolowski and Mix Diskerud, Donovan is the odd man out; in that case, thanks for reading, Coach Klinsmann.
In an attempt to throw others off the scent of his pettiness, Klinsmann allowed Tim Howard to rejoin the national team despite breaking his only two commandments: (1) asking for a little time off from friendlies or "competitive" games against Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines after years of service and carrying the burden of being a face of the national team; PLUS, (2) returning to MLS.
Oh, that’s right, Howard’s alternative is the catastrophic Brad Guzan. I get it now.
To piggyback and expand upon His Pettiness’ second commandment: Klinsmann has this relentless and passionate hatred for MLS in regard to his players. Another opinion that is on full, unedited and unfiltered display. He'll take a chance on a college kid like Jordan Morris; there is no depth of the German professional system he isn't willing to plumb. But MLS gives him the willies. He has his favorites, but if he's taking a flyer on someone in MLS, it is most likely in the hope the boost to the player's profile will get him to a nice Regionalliga team.
Also, a clear Klinsmann preference - but not a commandment - is experimenting with youth. Which is natural, normal and generally a good thing for the national team.
With all of that considered, New York Red Bulls fans and mustache aficionados everywhere couldn’t hold much tenable, rational hope that Sacha Kljestan, despite his pristine form in Major League Soccer, would be recalled to the national team for as long as Klinsmann was making the decisions.
Sacha is not young. Sacha is not playing in Germany, or even in neighboring Belgium. Sacha has reinvented himself in MLS as he strides toward the wrong side of 30. Sacha is doing it wrong, if "it" is getting selected to Klinsi's USMNT.
But with John Brooks struggling with a back niggle, Kljestan was surprisingly included in the side that would face St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago. Even then, the most staunch of Kljestan supporters didn’t much expect him to have any sort of role. After all, Sacha had been called up to replace a center back. Sacha is not a center back. Klinsi sub-text: I don't need another defender, so come watch us play, Mr. Kljestan.
Against St. Vinny and the G’s, Kljestan predictably started the match with a bib, nestled in a comfy front row seat. Maybe he'd get three minutes at the end of a 5-0 win and Klinsi could say he'd been given a chance but there just wasn't a need for him. More likely, he'd watch and pick up some kind words from the coach about being good in training and maybe having a future contribution to make around the time the glaciers have all melted and the ensuing rivers have run dry.
And yet...Kljestan entered in the 66th minute with more than enough time to make an impact. And an impact he did make.
After a goal (assisted by Christian Pulisic) and two assists (to goals scored by Christian Pulisic), beyond the immediate thought of "THE RED BULLS MUST FIND A WAY TO BUY PULISIC NOW" there were suddenly tenable, rational thoughts that maybe he’d get a chance from the opening whistle against T&T. Maybe?
Nope. Not a chance. Klinsi would find a reason to keep Sacha out of the starting spotlight.
Wrong again. Kljestan got the start.
And he impressed again, breaking the deadlock on the stroke of halftime with a goal that was immediately followed by a five-star celebration.
He followed up with further contributions to an increasingly swaggering USMNT attack, and left the game when the result was sealed: 4-0 to the USA.
Can even Klinsmann ignore Kljestan when crafting his squad to face Mexico in November? Sure he can: it's Klinsi. But we're not even suggesting a role in the game, barring injuries to about four central midfielders; we’re just looking for a place on the 23-man roster.
It doesn’t sound too radical to advocate for Kljestan to be on that squad: he made unusually good work of the opportunity he was given to show what he can do for USMNT.
But it is Klinsmann we’re talking about here. Remember when Kljestan tweeted, then soon deleted, in frustration at being consistently overlooked by Klinsmann despite staying in Europe and playing in the Champions League: "12/12 points in Europa League and qualification for the knockout stages. Well done boys! Are you even watching???"
Don’t think the Petty King has forgotten. Just because almost everyone watching USMNT saw #16 and thought "where has that guy been hiding?" doesn't mean Klinsi will be convinced.
After that shortsighted tweet from a player who’s typically one or two passes ahead of everyone else on the pitch, Kljestan half-apologized but really doubled down a bit more eloquently, or Sacha-like, a few months later, via Sports Illustrated.
"I don’t want to be the guy who’s the sh**, who’s acting like I have a big ego, like I deserve something better," said Kljestan. "It just came up in a moment of frustration after so many good results, so many good performances. But I think my attitude got better after that moment of frustration."
The tweet was from 2011, that’s five years ago when he was 26 and entering his prime as a player. Now as he’s about to turn 31, Klinsmann could hide behind the narrative that Kljestan doesn’t have a future with the team. Klinsi can say the only way for Kljestan's ability is downhill. Sacha will be 32 for the 2018 World Cup (because his birthday is two months after the tournament concludes), he isn't a pick for the future. And that’s how Klinsmann could brand leaving him out.
Until Klinsmann suggests otherwise, Kljestan is way down the midfield depth chart for USMNT. The list of central midfielders above Sacha certainly includes Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman. Graham Zusi and Ale Bedoya can play there, and Klinsmann likes them both. Plus he has been bringing along youngsters like Kellyn Acosta and Emerson Hyndman.
And for the specific task of freeing-up a potential Bobby Wood-Jozy Altidore partnership that has seemed so promising, Clint Dempsey could drop back into the attacking midfield role Sacha plays so well. And of course there is Pulisic, who’ll be taking some attacking place be it on the wing or underneath the striker(s).
But despite all of that. Despite Sacha's age, historic exclusion from Klinsmann's trusted core, the glut of players established and emerging who can play the same position, and the fact Kljestan made the bone-headed decision to move to MLS to get Klinsi's attention (as opposed to moving when that attention was already won, which is the more traditional approach) - despite all of those things, Sacha cannot and should not be dropped from the squad.
Despite Klinsmann’s undoubted pettiness, Kljestan has earned a right to be overlooked and unused on the bench against Mexico rather than be overlooked and unused by being left to hang out with his Red Bull teammates this November.
Baby steps, Klinsi. You can do it.