Sacha Kljestan makes another oversized contribution in Galaxy's draw with FC Dallas

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LA Galaxy midfielder Sacha Kljestan, center, celebrates after scoring.
Galaxy midfielder Sacha Kljestan, shown here celebrating after scoring on a penalty kick against Portland on Oct. 16, played a big part in the Galaxy's 2-2 draw with FC Dallas on Saturday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

When Sacha Kljestan returned home from the Galaxy’s last road game, he was greeted by a drawing his daughter made of her father preparing to take a penalty kick.

In the picture, 7-year-old Vera depicted a thickly muscled Kljestan towering over the 8-foot-tall goal. That’s not so much a lack of perspective as it is an accurate portrayal of the larger-than-life role the veteran midfielder has taken as a player-coach in his team’s push for its second playoff berth in five years.

“He’s huge for us,” coach Greg Vanney said.

Kljestan and the Galaxy came up big again Saturday, rallying from a two-goal first-half deficit to a 2-2 draw with FC Dallas at a half-empty Dignity Health Sports Park. Sebastian Lletget, a second-half substitute, scored in the 83rd minute to give the Galaxy the point it needed to remain fifth in the Western Conference standings with three games left.

Javier “Chicharito” Hernández scored the Galaxy’s first goal on a penalty kick in the 65th minute, his 14th of the season.

The draw extended the Galaxy’s unbeaten streak to four games and pushed them four points ahead of eighth-place Real Salt Lake, which has one game in hand. The top seven teams qualify for the postseason.

And if the Galaxy (13-11-7) hope to protect that slim margin, Kljestan’s veteran leadership will be important.

“He understands how we want to play. He understands what I’m asking [from] guys. He understands how to organize people within the game,” said Vanney, whose team’s next games are road matches against Kansas City and Seattle, the top two teams in the conference.

Saturday’s game was one of two halves, the first belonging to Dallas and the second to the Galaxy.

“It was just a lack of intensity. There's no excuse at this point because we're playing for so much,” Lletget, whose goal was his second of the season and first since mid-May, said of the Galaxy’s poor start. “We take pride in how we play and how we want to play. But you can't come out there without having that fight in you.

“We just lacked that in the first half and when you're down 2-0, the message is pretty clear. We’ve got to be more intense and I thought we did bring that in the second half.”

Kljestan helped, coming on in the 69th minute with the Galaxy still chasing the game. It was the 307th’s appearance of his MLS career, nearly 100 more than anyone on the Galaxy roster. It was also a career-high 15th appearance off the bench.

And he immediately provided a spark.

“I don't really think it's about ability at this point. It's just we're at the point of the season where it's who wants it more,” Lletget said, speaking not just of Kljestan but of the team in general. “We are in a playoff spot, but we want to secure it.”

Kljestan, 36, whose 17 playoff appearances are most on the roster, knows how to do that.

“We're in a good position right now, but we're not guaranteed to qualify for the playoffs yet,” said Kljestan, one of only five Galaxy players who appeared in Saturday’s game and also in a postseason match. “Every play matters. Every point matters. Every goal matters right now.”

That’s because for Kljestan, who grew up in Huntington Beach the son of a Bosnian Serb father who once played professionally in Sarajevo, time is running out. After 12 years in MLS and five seasons in Belgium, he’s much closer to the end of his career. So he already has begun work on his B coaching license, because if he’s going to be asked to coach, he might as well get paid.

“I'm definitely going to stay in soccer, 100%. This is my life. This is what I know,” he said. “It would be nice to have some type of player-coach role towards the end. Hopefully the Galaxy will help provide that for me.”

One more shot at the playoffs would be nice too.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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