It was a new-look Chivas USA team that took the field at the Home Depot Center on Saturday night.
Brazilian striker Maicon Santos and Mexican midfielder Jesus Padilla made their Major League Soccer debuts, and goalkeeper Lance Parker made a rare appearance in the nets in place of injured starter Zach Thornton.
But it was a fan favorite who had been out of sorts most of the season who led the way for Chivas.
Sacha Kljestan, the U.S. national team midfielder who has struggled to find his form all year, suddenly rediscovered it.
Goals in the 32nd and 51st minutes by Kljestan powered Chivas to a 2-0 victory over Toronto FC and back into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
With the win, Chivas improved to 10-7-3 and climbed from fifth place to third, just behind the Galaxy, ahead of today’s MLS games. Toronto fell to 8-8-6 but remained in third place in the Eastern Conference.
“I feel good but I’m not satisfied yet,” Kljestan said. “I think we’ve got a long way to go. I hope to get on a good streak, not only myself but with the team as well. Two wins in a row is good for us, so we hope to build on this.”
Coach Preki said Kljestan had fought to get back into the form he showed last season for Chivas USA and for the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.
“He’s been working really hard in training, we’ve been talking a lot, trying to get him back where he was because we all know when Sacha comes to play, when he really wants to play, Sacha is one of the better players in the league,” Preki said.
“I thought he had a good game. He worked hard defensively too. We just hope he keeps going. Obviously, his goal is to go to the World Cup. If he continues like this, the door is open to him.”
Chivas took the lead in the 32nd minute in a rather improbable manner.
Carey Talley took a corner kick from the right but the ball was cleared to the left and was about to go out of bounds when Jesse Marsch tracked it down and crossed it back into the goal mouth.
Maykel Galindo headed it sharply downward and Kljestan was positioned to redirect it in from a yard or two. With goalkeeper Stefan Frei and a defender on the line, there was no question of an offside call being made.
It was Kljestan’s first goal of the season.
Galindo should have scored in the final minute of the first half when he was put clear by a through ball from Kljestan. With time to set up his shot, the Cuban striker drove his effort into the side netting and the opportunity was gone.
Kljestan grabbed his second goal six minutes after the break, taking an exceptional through pass from Santos and slotting the ball past Frei in the Toronto nets.