Sacha Kljestan has been in and out of RSC Anderlecht's lineup since joining the club from Chivas USA last summer, and things are going south again.
He's featuring less and less as the reigning Belgian champion hits the pivotal part of the schedule, and if that's just part of being a young pro in a competitive European environment, it doesn't make it any easier.
“It's tough to deal with," Kljestan, who has started just one off Les Mauves' eight games since the Jan. 23 return from winter break, told Major League Soccer's Web site last week. “I played 4½ years and I think I started every game but one in MLS. It takes some adjustment, but I think I have a good mentality. I fight for my place every week, and whether I'm in the lineup or not, I support my teammates. I think my coaches and teammates recognize that.”
Kljestan (Huntington Beach/Huntington Beach HS) supported his teammates from the bench in both legs of the UEFA Europa League round-of-32 loss to Ajax Amsterdam, and he didn't feature in Friday's showdown with Genk, which is tied on points with Anderlecht (both are 18-3-7) but ahead on goal difference atop the Belgian Jupiler League standings.
The club is winless in its last four games and outscored, 8-1, in that span -- after a two-month stretch with nine successive shutouts. Kljestan, of course, started during part of that streak, then sat for three games, then returned as a late substitute in two more. He's played just 54 minutes in Anderlecht's last nine games, getting 45 in his lone start, a 2-0 debacle at Westerlo two weeks ago.
Kljestan sees the bigger picture. He's experiencing Europe -- he and his fiancee, model Jamie Lee Darley, have enjoyed trips to London and Paris -- and working on his game, with hopes of going to a bigger club and playing a big role with the U.S. national team.
“We have a healthy competition in training for selection every week. I think it's making me a better player -- but obviously, I want to be on the field to help my team the most,” he told the MLS Web site. "Every day in training, I have to test myself a little more, and I think I've become a better 90-minute player in all aspects.
“In MLS, I played as more of an attacking midfielder. Here I've played as more of a defensive midfielder, so that part of my game has improved. At the end of the year, I'll be able to say that my game has become more well-rounded.”
OLD FIRM LOSS: Fontana's Maurice Edu and Rangers FC is out of the Scottish Cup following a 1-0 loss Celtic in last week's fifth-round replay, the Blues' second defeat to their Old Firm rival in 11 days.
It was a nasty affair, more so than normal, with the benches clashing after the game and Celtic manager Neil Lennon and Rangers assistant coach Ally McCoist having to be separated.
Rangers management blamed Celtic.
“There was indeed increased tension at [the] match between the clubs, mainly as a result of incidents at previous matches where two of our players were the subject of extreme verbal abuse in the tunnel and around the dug-out area at Ibrox,” Rangers chief executive Martin Bain said in a statement issued by the club. “Our management team are highly regarded across the football world for their approach to the game. Our assistant manager, who is acutely aware of representing Rangers in the best possible way, became embroiled in a situation last night where he acted in the defense of our players. He met Neil Lennon again after the match and is now satisfied the Celtic manager is fully aware of his views.”
Mark Wilson scored the goal, three minutes into the second half, and Rangers couldn't overcome Steven Whittaker's red card in the 36th. They were down to nine men by the end, with Madjid Bougherra ejected in the 90th, and El Hadji Diouf saw red after the game, for his role in the postgame scrum.
Celtic, the Catholic club in Glasgow's Sectarian rivalry, has three shutout victories and a 2-2 draw in its last four meetings with Rangers. The next meeting: March 20 in the Scottish League Cup final.
BACK ON TRACK: Irvine's Matt Taylor pushed his goal total to a dozen with a pair Saturday at Carl Zeiss Jena, but Rot Weiss Ahlen let a two-goal lead disappear in a 3-3 draw.
It was the third two-goal game for Taylor in Germany's 3.Bundesliga and and his return to the scoresheet for the first time since returning from a calf injury sustained a month ago.
FIRST START: Manhattan Beach's Michael Bradley was in Aston Villa's starting XI for its fifth-round F.A. Cup clash with Manchester City, but he couldn't spur the Villans to a big upset. He was back on the bench for an English Premier League loss to fellow American Stuart Holden and Bolton.
ETC.: Pasadena's Yura Movsisyan made his debut for FC Krasnodar, coming off the bench to set up Igor Pikuschak's overtime winner in a 1-0 victory over Amkar in a Russian Cup round-of-16 clash, Krasnodar, which will play at Spartak Moscow in an April 4 quarterfinal, opens the Russian Premier League season Saturday. … Saint-Etienne, with Alta Loma's Carlos Bocanegra, has lost three in a row and dipped to 10th in the French Ligue 1 standings. … Santa Monica's Jay Denny did a lot of the grunt work in midfield as Hednesford Town reached England's Southern League Cup final vs. Hemel Hempstead Town (away April 5, home April 12).
AREA PLAYERS IN EUROPE
D CARLOS BOCANEGRA (Alta Loma/UCLA)
Club: Saint-Etienne (France, Ligue 1)
Last week: 90 minutes as Les Verts (9-9-8) fell 10th with a 1-0 loss Saturday at Caen
Season: 22 league games (22 starts) with 2 goals, 24 games (24 starts) with 2 goals in all competitions
Next: Saturday vs. 11th-place Brest (9-9-8)
M MICHAEL BRADLEY (Manhattan Beach)
Club: Aston Villa (England, Premier League)
Last week: Stared, played 71 minutes in a 3-0 loss to Manchester City in Wednesday's F.A. Cup fifth-round clash; did not play as the 13th-place Villans (8-12-9) lost, 3-2, Saturday at Bolton
Season: 1 league game (0 starts), 1 F.A. Cup game (1 start), 2 games (1 start) in all competitions for Aston Villa; 22 games (20 starts) with 4 goals for Borussia Moenchengladbach (Germany)
Next: March 19 vs. 19th-place Wolverhampton (8-16-5)
M/D JAY DENNY (Santa Monica)
Club: Hednesford Town (England, Southern League Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes in a 1-0 victory Tuesday at Chippenham Town in a Southern League Cup semifinal
Season: 10 cup games (9 starts) with 1 goal, 37 games (35 starts) with 2 goals in all competitions
Next: Wednesday at ninth-place Swindon Supermarine (14-10-5), Saturday vs. 20th-place Tiverton Town (5-19-6)
M MAURICE EDU (Fontana)
Club: Rangers FC (Scotland, Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes in Wednesday's 1-0 loss at Celtic in a Scottish Cup fifth-round replay; 90 minutes as the second-place Blues (20-4-2) beat St. Mirren, 1-0, on Saturday
Season: 21 league games (15 starts) with 2 goals, 5 domestic cup games (5 starts) with 1 goal, 32 games (25 starts) with 5 goals in all competitions
Next: Thursday at PSV Eindhoven in a UEFA Europa Cup round-of-16 first leg, Saturday vs. fourth-place Kilmarnock (12-10-6)
M BENNY FEILHABER (Irvine/UCLA)
Club: AGF Aarhus (Denmark, 1.Division)
Last week: League is on winter break
Season: 14 league games (14 starts) with 4 goals, 17 games (16 starts) overall with 7 goals
Next: March 20 vs. Hobro (5-7-3)
G BRAD FRIEDEL (Bay Village, Ohio/UCLA)
Club: Aston Villa (England, Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes with 5 saves in a 3-0 loss to Manchester City in Wednesday's F.A. Cup fifth-round clash; 90 minutes with 1 save as the 13th-place Villans (8-12-9) lost, 3-2, Saturday at Bolton
Season: 29 league games (29 starts), 50 goals allowed, 87 saves, 5 shutouts; 5 cup games (5 stars), 8 goals allowed, 18 saves; 34 games (34 starts), 60 goals allowed, 105 saves, 5 shutouts in all competitions
Next: March 19 vs. 19th-place Wolverhampton (8-16-5)
M SACHA KLJESTAN (Huntington Beach)
Club: RSC Anderlecht (Belgium, Jupiler League)
Last week: Did not play Friday as second-place Les Mauves (18-3-7) drew, 1-1, with Genk
Season: 16 league games (11 starts) with 2 goals, 6 UEFA games (6 starts) with 1 goal, 24 games (19 starts) with 3 goals in all competitions
Next: Saturday at 14th-place Eupen (5-16-7)
D DALLAS MOORE (Santa Monica)
Club: St. Neots Town FC (England, UCL Premier Division)
Last week: Started, played 77 minutes, Wednesday as the first-place Saints (23-1-4) routed Blackstones FC, 6-0; 90 minutes, committing a foul that drew a penalty kick, in Saturday's 3-2 victory over Boston Town
Season: 7 league games (7 starts) with 1 goal, 8 games (8 starts) with 1 goal in all competitions for St. Neots Town; 13 games (13 starts) for Halesowen Town (England) with 1 goal
Next: Tuesday vs. third-place Newport Pagnell Town (20-2-6), Saturday at 16th-place Sleaford Town (7-16-7)
F YURA MOVSISYAN (Pasadena/Pasadena City College)
Club: FC Krasnodar (Russia, Russian Premier League)
Last week: 73rd-minute substitute in a 1-0 overtime victory over Amkar in the Russian Cup's round of 16
Season: 1 cup game (0 starts) for Krasnodar; 25 games (20 starts) with 14 goals for Randers (Denmark)
Next: Sunday in league opener at Anzhi Makhachkala
F MATT TAYLOR (Irvine/UCLA)
Club: Rot Weiss Ahlen (Germany, 3. Bundesliga)
Last week: Started, played 89 minutes, scoring goals in the 28th and 43rd minutes, as 16th-place Rot Weiss (6-11-9) drew, 3-3, Saturday at Carl Zeiss Jena
Season: 18 league games (18 starts) with 12 goals, 19 games (19 starts) with 12 goals in all competitions
Next: Tuesday vs. ninth-place VfB Stuttgart II (8-7-11), Saturday vs. eighth-place FC Heidenheim (12-11-3)
F BOBBY WOOD (Irvine)
Club: TSV 1860 Munich (Germany, 2. Bundesliga)
Past week: 88th-minute substitute as 10th-place 1860 (9-7-9) with a 1-1 draw Friday vs. RW Oberhausen
Season: 5 league games (0 starts), 23 games (14 starts) with 7 goals in all competitions
Next: Sunday at 18th-place Arminia Bielefeld (3-18-4)