At 34, Sacha Kljestan is well aware which way the trajectory of his soccer career is headed.
“I know for a fact that I’m closer to the end than the beginning,” said Kljestan, who is two years older than any of his Galaxy teammates.
The same could be said of LAFC defender Jordan Harvey, at 36 the oldest player on the team. So when MLS, in response to the spread of the deadly coronavirus, put its season on pause for two months and placed a two-week moratorium on team practices, it sped up the approach of Father Time, with each missed practice and game pushing the two players a day closer to retirement.
Kljestan is spending his newfound free time sequestered at home with his wife Jamie and their 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.
“We’ve been doing our best to keep them entertained. We were doing outside chalk today,” he said Sunday.
Harvey, whose wife Kim recently gave birth to the couple’s second child, is also quarantined at home, where he has been playing with his kids and taking on extra parenting duties.
“It’s a tough circumstance but we’re trying to make the most of it,” he said. “We can go run around the yard. If there is some sort of silver lining, it’s that I’m here during this time and able to help.”
It hasn’t been all fun with no games though. Both players are also following challenging training programs issued by their teams because although the mid-30s is young for bankers, bakers and bus drivers, it’s AARP territory for soccer players.
“Soccer is definitely becoming more and more of a younger player’s game,” Kljestan said. “None of that is lost on me.”
The midfielder is one of five players on the Galaxy’s 25-man roster older than 30. LAFC’s 24-man roster has seven over-30 players but 11 under 24; last season nearly 40% of the team’s MLS minutes went to players younger than 24.
Compare that to baseball, where 12 players on the Dodgers 40-man roster are older than 30 and only four are under 24.
Kljestan has been able to keep up though, with metrics from the two games the Galaxy have played showing he covered more ground than any of his teammates. For that he credits an ambitious training program that began about three weeks into the last offseason, one he’ll try to replicate during the MLS break.
“I know at this age, from talking to other guys, that getting back in shape is a lot harder than it used to be,” said Kljestan, an Orange County native whose 14-year career featured a long stay in Belgium and 52 caps with the U.S. national team. “I’m going to do my best to stay in shape and I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’m not scared about that.”
Kljestan, who has home fitness equipment set up in his Huntington Beach garage, has been following a program of circuit training and running set up by Javier Valdecantos, the Galaxy’s performance coach.
Of more concern for Kljestan is how people hold up mentally in quarantine while dealing with the danger and the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Especially for single guys who are not from here, who maybe live on their own and they’re kind of isolated and they’re just watching Netflix and trying not to be nervous or scared,” he said. “That part doesn’t get talked about enough. Not just in an athlete’s world but in society right now.
“The mental-health aspect of this is very difficult on people that are lonesome and afraid.”
Harvey, who grew up in Mission Viejo and lives in Studio City, recently bought training equipment from teammate Adama Diomande and had a stationary bike and weights delivered from LAFC’s performance center, allowing him to work out for two hours each day following the team’s repeating three-day regimen of light day, medium day, hard day.
“As I get older it’s about not dropping my fitness to a level where it’s difficult to get back,” said Harvey, whose 32 appearances last season, including the playoffs, were the second-most of his 14-year career. “I’m taking the time right now to maintain fitness so that I am ready to go when it comes to that.
“We have a plan. It’s not going to be tomorrow so we aren’t planning on being completely ready right now. When it is time, if we do end up playing, we will be ready at that point.”
But although the passage of time has taken something from Kljestan and Harvey physically, it has also given them the wisdom to see the bigger picture.
“If this drags on for a long time, OK, I might miss out on some games I probably could have played in,” Kljestan said. “That’s life and there are more important things going on in the world right now.”
“Everybody’s focusing on staying healthy and staying together and doing everything they can to slow this spread and being with their families at home,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is thinking about stats or games. Certainly not MLS Cup.”