Sacha Kljestan scored the 11th hat trick ever for the U.S. Men’s National Team Saturday evening to earn a 3-2 victory against Sweden to open their 2009 campaign.
In a fairly tepid first 45 minutes, Kljestan provided the U.S. with a 2-0 lead going into the locker room. His first goal was a stunning 35-yard free kick that he placed perfectly into the upper left corner, before following up that effort by burying a penalty kick with five minutes remaining in the half.
With Sweden pulling a goal back in the 73rd minute, it was Kljestan once again who answered for the U.S., taking a feed from Brian Ching to bury a left-footed shot just one minute later. In the 89th minute, Sweden struck again to make things interesting, but the U.S. was able to kill off any last minute attacks for an equalizer.
The three goals by Kljestan were the first of his career with the full team, and put him in unique company as only the second player ever to open his national team scoring account with a hat trick. The only other player to pull off the feat was Aldo “Buff” Donelli, who tallied four goals in a 4-2 victory against Mexico on May 24, 1934, in the lone qualifying match for the 1934 FIFA World Cup in Italy.
“Getting a hat trick is pretty exciting for me,” said Kljestan. “I’ve never scored more than one goal in a game as a professional, so it’s definitely exciting. I’m just as happy about the win and I’m glad we held on in the end. It was great to do it [score a hat trick] here at the Home Depot Center. I have a lot of friends and family that come and support me every game, so that was pretty cool to have them here.”
The victory kept the U.S. undefeated in eight matches at The HDC (7-0-1) and was the eleventh straight time the U.S. has either tied or won their opening game of the year, with the U.S. also defeating Sweden 1-0 to start the streak in 1998. Overall against Sweden, the U.S. now holds a winning record with four victories and three losses in seven games.
Despite a fairly inexperienced roster, the U.S. was able to control the majority of the match and provide an effective attack, especially in the second half. Of the 18 players on the roster, 13 had less than 10 career caps, and six of the starters chosen by U.S. head coach Bob Bradley had less than 5 caps, including two – goalkeeper Troy Perkins and midfielder Robbie Rogers – who earned their first caps on the night.
The slow and controlled beginning of the match was jarred awake by Kljestan with his stunning free kick in the 17th minute that gave the U.S. the early lead. Ching, the leading U.S. capwinner on the roster (33), was brought down by Marcus Lindberg about 30 yards out and on the free kick Rogers ran over the ball allowing Kljestan to unleash his drive into the upper-left corner of the goal.
The U.S. continued to control most of the possession and doubled their lead near the end of the half with some nice possession play that led to a penalty kick. The ball was knocked out wide right where Ching was able to collect the ball and touch it to John Thorrington along the sideline. With Marvell Wynne involved in the attack, Thorrington slipped the ball through for him and he took one touch to get into the penalty area before getting tripped up by Adam Johansson. Kljestan stepped up to bury the penalty shot to the right of the goal as Dahlin went the opposite direction.
During the first half, the U.S. was able to thwart Sweden’s attack as captain Danny Califf and fellow central defender Michael Parkhurst controlled the backline, while midfielder Ricardo Clark also broke up numerous attacks. Wynne and Jonathan Bornstein were also staunch in their defending on the wings, while also choosing wisely when to dart up the sideline and join in the attack. Overall in the first half, Sweden only had two shots, and just one on goal, which came from Mikael Dahlberg in the 24th minute, a 18-yard effort towards the lower left post that Perkins was able to cover with ease.
Kenny Cooper came on to replace Charlie Davies to start the second half, and the 6-foot-3 forward almost tallied two minutes in when he got his head to a Rogers corner kick. The header got past Dahlin, who had challenged for the service, but Lindberg was able to clear it off the line and over the bar.
Despite controlling much of the play, Sweden pulled one back when Alexander Farnerud supplied a service into the penalty area for Daniel Nannskog, who lost Bornstein at the right post and finished past Perkins with a diving header.
The U.S. was quick to respond a minute later. Once again it was Kljestan getting the accolades with the finish, but the set-up by Ching was what provided the U.S. breathing room once again. Following a long ball from the back from Califf, Ching brought the ball down with an impressive first touch at the top of the penalty area between two defenders which allowed him to turn and then slip the ball to the left for the streaking Kljestan, who slammed his one-timer into the right side netting.
The action continued with Sweden getting another great opportunity a few minutes later, but Dahlberg’s header from six yards out bounced in front of the goal and bounced over the bar.
Sweden did tally their second goal of the night when Farnerud served in another dangerous cross and this time Dahlberg didn’t miss the opportunity, heading it off the right post and into the net.
Cooper had one final chance to give the U.S. another two-goal lead, when he slipped behind the Sweden defense for a breakaway against Dahlin, but his touch around the ‘keeper was too much and Dahlin was able to recover and make the save on his shot from a tight angle.
“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.”
Chris Wingert was the third player to earn his first cap with the MNT on the evening, coming on as a 79th-minute substitute for Bornstein.
The U.S. now looks ahead to their opening match of the final round of FIFA World Cup qualifying against arch-rival Mexico on Feb. 11 at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Tickets for the USA-Mexico match go on sale Wednesday, Jan. 28 at 12 p.m. ET.
(Courtesy of ussoccer.com)