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Experience never gets old for Galaxy’s Sacha Kljestan and LAFC’s Jordan Harvey

Galaxy midfielder Sacha Kljestan and Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Chara in action.
Galaxy midfielder Sacha Kljestan and Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Chara (21) in action during a match in Carson on Oct. 7, 2020.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

Sacha Kljestan doesn’t like to be called old.

“I still feel young,” he argues. “I guess I would use the word experience. I’ve just been around a long time.”

So long that eight players on the Galaxy roster are closer in age to Kljestan’s 4-year-old son Knox than they are to their 35-year-old teammate.

The spread is even wider for LAFC defender Jordan Harvey. At 37, he’s old enough to be the father of the three 16-year-old players on his team — two of whom are pushing to replace him.

Harvey’s job this season will be to help them do that.

“A role that they want me to play is to help mentor some of these young guys,” said Harvey, who will mark the start of his 15th MLS season when LAFC formally opens its preseason training camp Monday. “We’ve got some young defenders. Some really talented defenders. And it’s difficult, some of the nuances of the system that we play.

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“So someone who’s been in it can help guys along.”

Kljestan and Harvey, who began their careers as teammates with the Orange Blue Star of the lower-tier Premier Development League, are the oldest — uh, make that most experienced — players on their teams. And they bring full resumes.

Kljestan, a midfielder who is beginning his 16th professional season, won eight trophies in Belgium, a Supporters’ Shield in MLS and earned 52 caps with the national team.

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Harvey has won a Canadian Championship, a Supporters’ Shield and made 315 regular-season starts. Only 13 players in MLS history have made more.

While both concede they’re closer to the end of their careers, neither is ready to say when that will come. In fact, both insist they have a lot to offer as players, not just as teachers, this season.

“It’s a battle that’s not necessarily worth fighting because there’s going to be a narrative out there revolving around age,” Harvey said regarding rumors of his decline. “I go off of how I feel and I feel really good.”

Kljestan agreed.

“I feel young in my mind and body,” he said. “I’m still a little kid that just gets to play this sport for a living.”

But he’s also aware some teammates really are kids, which leaves a big gap to bridge.

“I’m trying to connect with those guys,” said Kljestan, who was signed as a free agent before last season to be a leader in the locker room. “To know what their interests are, just to get to know them, where [they] come from, what their family is like. So that we all can have a better relationship and build a better club.”

Being around a long time also can create some interesting situations outside the locker room. Kljestan, for example, played with or against at least a half-dozen MLS managers, including Greg Vanney, his current boss with the Galaxy. He also played under three other current MLS managers and once roomed with new D.C. United coach Hernán Losada when both were with Belgian club Anderlecht.

He has played so long he made his MLS debut against Chris Klein, who is in his ninth year as the Galaxy’s president, played five seasons for a club that no longer exists (Chivas USA) and started his second playoff game in a state that no longer has an MLS team (Missouri).

He once appeared on the cover of the FIFA video game alongside Frank Lampard and Cuauhtémoc Blanco, both of whom retired as players when Barack Obama was still in the White House.

Yet, until last season, which was shortened to 22 games because of COVID-19, Kljestan had played in at least 22 games and made at least 13 starts in each of his nine full MLS seasons. And he’s planning to do that again this year.

Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri falls after being tackled by LAFC defender Jordan Harvey.
Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri falls after being tackled by LAFC defender Jordan Harvey, left, in the first half on March 10, 2019.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

“I don’t mind trying to mentor these young guys,” he said. “[But] I still think I’m competing for a starting spot on the team. Nobody should go into the season thinking, ‘Maybe I can just be a guy who plays here and there.’

“I still think I can be a starting player.”

Kljestan, who grew up in Huntington Beach, said he learned his work ethic from his father, Slavko, who played professionally in the former Yugoslavia.

“He was working from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and then he would come home and after dinner he’d always ask if I wanted to go to the park and practice a little bit,” he said.

His final act as a player, he insists, has yet to be scripted, but when it comes Kljestan said it won’t end with him leaving the game.

“I’m definitely going to stay in soccer,” he said. “This is my life. This is what I know. This is my biggest passion outside my family.

“I want to stay involved in the game and hopefully the Galaxy will help provide that for me when I’m done playing.”

Harvey, who grew up in Mission Viejo, was the first Californian to win the Gatorade national player of the year award, then went on to win an NCAA title at UCLA. But after being drafted he had to wait two seasons to make his MLS debut with the Colorado Rapids in 2008, when MLS had half the number of teams it does now.

He would play more than 130 games with three teams before making his first playoff appearance with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2012, starting on a team that included John Thorrington, now LAFC’s general manager.

Six years later Thorrington made Harvey one of the cornerstones of his expansion team, signing him to a free-agent contract two months before the team’s first game.

The Galaxy and LAFC are hopeful that at least a limited number of fans will be allowed into their stadiums when the MLS season opens next month.

Harvey rewarded him by playing more games (70) and making more starts (59) than any defender in the club’s short history. But with Thorrington in the midst of a remake that has seen him shave more than two years off the average age of the LAFC roster since 2019, Harvey’s last two contracts have been one-year deals, leaving his short-term future uncertain.

“My goal was to play another season and then see where this goes,” he said. “There’s no preconceived idea of this being my last year of whatever. I’m taking it day by day and just loving the ride.

“Obviously I’m planning for retirement because it’s around the corner. And if it comes, I have some different things in place that will help with that transition.”

But as with Kljestan, Harvey’s transition won’t take him away from the game.

“I want to stay within soccer,” he said. “This is my passion. And this is what I want to be part of my life.”


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