Three years ago, Jurgen Klinsmann didn't think Sacha Kljestan was a national team level attacking midfielder. Despite being lined up at the top of the midfielder diamond, Kljestan played like a holding midfielder, which was his natural position at the time.
"His instinct tells him to drop a little deeper because that's what he does at Anderlecht, and then suddenly we had three midfielders in the same area," Klinsmann said after a 2013 friendly against Scotland. "That's not what we wanted. We wanted to find people between their two lines of four, so it was a bit tricky for him."
After a few more appearances in 2013 and 2014, Kljestan found himself banished from the national team. The recent call-up came as a surprise, not because of a lack of talent or production, but because of Klinsmann's notorious reliance on certain players and willful ignorance of others.
The late, injury driven call-up for the World Cup Qualifiers against St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago even came as a shock to Kljestan. He believed that the text from U.S. Soccer was a prank and demanded Klinsmann call him.
Kljestan, now a 30-year-old attacking midfielder with the New York Red Bulls, deserves to be included in current and future national team rosters. He is no longer a player who drops deeper into the formation, but drives the attack forward. He has a MLS-leading 15 assists this season, after contributing 14 in last year's run to the Supporters' Shield.
"The reason Sacha is back in this group is he deserves it," Klinsmann told ESPN FC. "He's a difference-maker, and he's more mature. He seems very driven."
He wasn't a big enough difference-maker to be included in the initial roster, but multiple injuries and suspensions have forced Klinsmann's hand.
Clint Dempsey is sidelined with a heart issue (and is potentially nearing the end of his international career), Jermaine Jones left camp due to a nagging knee injury, and Michael Bradley is suspended for the St. Vincent match due to card accumulation. For at least one match, there is an opportunity for a midfielder to make an impact and push himself back into the spotlight.
Although he's been consistently discussed as a potential "fix" for the national team's lack of production, there's a chance Kljestan won't be in the lineup Friday against St. Vincent or on Tuesday against Trinidad. Klinsmann could instead look for creativity from some combination of Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, and Darlington Nagbe.
If Kljestan plays and is able to combine with in-form strikers Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood, then perhaps he'll be invited back in the future. The national team needs creative players and midfielders who can generate opportunities and make difficult passes in the attacking third. Kljestan also has the benefit of being a gritty defender, something the U.S. always needs when playing stronger opponents in tournaments.
With the 2018 World Cup rapidly approaching, time is running out for players to cement their place in Klinsmann's preferred group.
One single moment of weakness -- a missed pass, not chasing down a ball, some perceived slight in the locker room -- and Kljestan could once again find himself banished from the national team. This is his opportunity and he has to seize it because there may not be another one.