Sacha Kljestan’s UEFA Champions League prospects hang by a thread following Anderlecht’s 1-1 draw at Paris Saint-German on Tuesday, during which the U.S. midfielder took a share of the spotlight from Zlatan Ibrahimović with an assist and a red card.
Kljestan helped lift Anderlecht into a surprising 68th-minute lead at the Parc des Princes. He received a pass from Dennis Praet at the left corner of the PSG penalty area, raced past Alex toward the end line and cut a cross back toward the middle for Demy De Zeeuw, who blasted his shot through goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu. It was Anderlecht’s first goal of the group stage.
The fun lasted all of two minutes. Ibrahimović leveled the score in the 70th after bouncing a shot off the left post and then knocking home the rebound. It was the Swedish striker’s seventh goal in four Champions League games this season. He scored four in PSG’s 5-0 demolition of Anderlecht back in Brussels on Oct. 23.
Sitting on a first-half yellow card, Kljestan then was ejected in the 82nd minute following a play he’ll surely regret. Standing some 40 yards from his own goal, he lifted his right elbow to knock down a pass from PSG midfielder Javier Pastore. The referee had little choice but to caution Kljestan a second time and send him off.
Kljestan now will miss 0-3-1 Anderlecht’s Nov. 27 game against Benfica (1-2-1), which the Belgian club must win in order to remain in Champions League contention. PSG leads Group C at 3-0-1 and Greek titlist Olympiacos is in second at 2-1-1.
The ejection is an unfortunate black mark on what has been Kljestan’s fantastic start to the 2013-14 campaign. He has seven goals in Belgian Pro League play, already the highest total of his eight-year career.
“It’s hard to explain. Four of the seven goals have come off set pieces. I’ve been putting myself in good positions to score on set pieces,” Kljestan told U.S. Soccer’s website in a Q&A published Monday. “It’s not like I’ve had a ton of opportunities to score this season. I’ve really had maybe 10 and scored on seven of them. It’s just one of those things that happen in soccer. Sometimes when you get in the zone and you get a little bit of luck here and there, and you have some experience to go along with it, things just kind of fall into place. Right now, I have the hot hand and I hope it continues.”
It did for a while on Tuesday. Two-time defending champ Anderlecht is 9-4-1 in league play and in fifth place, five points behind leader Standard Liège. Kljestan will look to rebound from Tuesday’s red card on Sunday at KRC Genk.