New York Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan (pictured) has played in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League for Chivas USA and the UEFA Champions League with Anderlect. (Photo courtesy of the New York Red Bulls)
HARRISON, New Jersey -- Sacha Kljestan is the voice of experience when it comes to Champions League matches.
The New York Red Bulls standout midfielder has competed in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League (SCCL) and in the UEFA Champions League.
New York will launch its third-ever SCCL campaign Wednesday, when it hosts Guatemala’s Antigua GFC (Guatemala) in the Group F opener at Red Bull Arena.
"You have to be prepared for anything," Kljestan said. "You're playing against good teams. We're playing against a team that is their first time in Champions League. They've got a lot to prove. We've got to be prepared for a team that is going to give their everything.”
When he performed with Chivas USA, Kljestan participated in a 2008/09 SCCL preliminary round series. The Major League Soccer side was eliminated by Panama’s Tauro, 3-1 on aggregate.
"My initial Champions League experience wasn't very good. I let my team down and we didn't qualify,” he said of missing a penalty kick. “It was disappointing. It was a very good experience for me to get some of that under my belt."
After transferring to Anderlecht in Belgium, Kljestan played in 20 European Champions League games, calling it “one of the best footballing experiences.”
"It always gave myself a sense of confidence and a consistency to my game," he remarked. "When I played against teams that were better than Anderlecht and were bigger clubs, it was definitely a higher level. You had to raise your level in order to give yourself a chance to get results. To go toe to toe with some of the best players in the world really gave me a sense of confidence that I felt carried with me for the last four or five years."
Against Antigua GFC, New York will be without captain Dax McCarty, who is sidelined for the next four to six weeks with a fractured tibia.
"We miss Dax a lot because of his leadership,” finished Kljestan. "He's the guy for me who's the easiest to play with. But we have a lot of confidence that Sean Davis will really step up and take on a larger role and be great."