Sacha Kljestan still remembers when he used to play "FIFA" with his brother back in 1995. "Back then everyone in the crowd looked the same, every player looked the same it's crazy how lifelike the game is getting now. My guy actually looks like me," he says with the smile of a man who not only appears in "FIFA 10," but is featured on the cover for the first time.
"As soon as I turned pro, first thing I did was run out and buy 'FIFA' so I could see what I looked like in the game and if he played like me," Kljestan tells me as we kick back in EA's Canadian offices, where producers just demoed the game for the first time. "Every year it keeps getting better and as you become a bigger and better player, they focus a little more on you and get your face better and all of your little moves like the step-overs. It's pretty sweet, dude.
"To think that one day I'd be on the cover of a game I've been playing for almost 15 years, it's almost like I've made it. Only thing is, now that I'm on the cover, I can't lose to anyone I know. I need to put in some serious practice."
Here's what else Kljestan had to say as we talked "FIFA 10," the World Cup, and playing against a team that just got robbed by hookers.
ESPN: How important is it for the "FIFA" series to add custom set pieces into the game this year?
Sacha Kljestan: It's really important because it helps you add your own identity into the game. We practice set pieces at Chivas and with the national team all the time, and now I can go in here and set up the play exactly how you want it to go, and that will help you score goals. It adds a lot of realism to the game.
ESPN: Give us advice on how to create a winning custom set piece.
Sacha Kljestan: If you have a free kick wide, put it right in front of the goalie and have all of your guys run right in front of the goalie and create some chaos. If you have a free kick at the top of the box, just aim for the upper corner.
ESPN: Do you have any custom moves or celebrations that you want to see added in the game?
Sacha Kljestan: My signature celebration when I score is doing karate moves because my dad used to do karate whenever he scored in men's league. So it's kind of funny, but I don't know if they have it in the game or not. I guess I need to go score a goal and find out.
ESPN: The U.S. soccer team finally caught the attention of the world with the way you guys played in the 2009 Confederation Cup. What finally clicked with the team to help it beat Spain and almost pull off the unbelievable upset against Brazil?
Sacha Kljestan: We've always been a pretty good team, and I actually think we've been underrated. No one has really taken us serious for a long time, but we really stepped up in South Africa. We were unlucky to lose to Brazil, but obviously, they're a world-class team. Hopefully the media and all of the fans will catch on in the States and we'll prove that we belong as a world-class team as well. The World Cup will obviously be a big test for us, but at the same time, after we beat Spain, I think a lot of teams will take us a lot more seriously now. It might be tougher on us, but it's all good. You gotta beat the best to be the best, so we'll see what happens.
ESPN: I hear when you guys go overseas, the fans will do all kinds of things to distract you at your hotel. What are some of the things they try to do?
Sacha Kljestan: We have to turn our phones off in the hotel or they will just ring all night. We've had fans hit the fire alarm in the middle of the night while we're sleeping it's crazy out there. Soccer is the biggest sport in all of these countries, and the fans take their national team very seriously. It's their national team, their national pride, so we understand how it is.
The atmosphere overseas is huge. These guys live and die for their teams, they breathe for their teams, and when you get into some big games, you can share the passion of the fans. When the whole crowd lights up because of something you just did, it's a great feeling.
ESPN: What are your expectations for the World Cup?
Sacha Kljestan: I think a big accomplishment would be to get to the semifinals. Anything less than that, we're going to deem as not good enough. It's going to be tough, but hopefully we get matched up with a good group and make a run.
ESPN: Is that a big change in mentality for the team? Before it seemed like the U.S. was just lucky to be there, now you guys are playing to win.
The World Cup will obviously be a big test for us, but at the same time, after we beat Spain, I think a lot of teams will take us a lot more seriously now. It might be tougher on us, but it's all good. You gotta beat the best to be the best, so we'll see what happens.
”-- Sacha Kljestan
Sacha Kljestan: I think so. This last Confederation Cup in South Africa, I look back and I'm like, ah man, we could've won that. We're getting close. I think maybe 10 years ago, people were like, all right, let's get to the World Cup and see what happens. Now it's a big step for us to get to the final or close to the final and get some success.
ESPN: A lot has been made about the Egyptian team getting robbed by hookers before your game at the Confederation Cup. Did you guys know anything about this before the game?
Sacha Kljestan: No. [laughs] We just heard that some Egyptian dudes got some money stolen. We didn't know it was hookers. We didn't know what was going on. Later we heard that they had some prostitutes at the hotel and I don't know. We don't do all that crazy stuff. We're just there to play football.
ESPN: I hear you're a big Clippers fan. Are you excited about getting Blake Griffin?
Sacha Kljestan: I'm pretty stoked. I saw him play in college, he's a good dude, a good player, and I'm excited Baron Davis is back. Hopefully people will actually start talking about them in L.A. instead of the Lakers that other team.
ESPN: What would possess anyone to be a Clippers fan?
Sacha Kljestan: I used to be a Lakers fan. I'm a big Shaq fan, so I'll probably be rooting for the Cavs this year too. But after Shaq left, I just couldn't root for the Lakers, so I support the Clippers now.
ESPN: Speaking of hoops, EA Sports had you participate in a mini-Olympics style event with Dwight Howard and Venus Williams where you were all playing each other's sport. You almost got a dunk in on the basketball court.
Sacha Kljestan: I know, I was so close. I think I would've got it down if I warmed up a little more beforehand. But it was a fun event. I think people underestimate how hard soccer is and how technical you have to be when you play. It was funny watching Dwight and Venus trying to kick the ball. She can serve and he can slam but it's hard to use your feet. It's one thing to play "FIFA," it's something else to go out and do it for real.
I guess I have the best of both worlds. Now I just have to make sure nobody beats me this year. Any year but now. Not when I'm on the cover.