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Schellscheidt primes Chivas

At Seton Hall, the treasured 65-year-old coach schooled Hernandez and Kljestan, who now put lessons to work in MLS playoffs.

October 28, 2006|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Any search for a soccer guru in the United States invariably ends at Seton Hall in South Orange, N.J., where Coach Manfred Schellscheidt has held sway for 18 years.

He's 65 now, but the German-born former U.S. national team and Olympic team coach is as influential as ever. Schellscheidt is the coach other coaches turn to for help and advice. They also turn to him for players.

Chivas USA is no exception.

Two of its starters -- defender Jason Hernandez and midfielder Sacha Kljestan -- were key players for Schellscheidt at Seton Hall and are now establishing themselves in Major League Soccer.

Both will be on the field Sunday when Chivas plays the Houston Dynamo in Game 2 of the MLS playoffs in Texas.

"Manfred is just a special person," Chivas Coach Bob Bradley said. "When it comes to soccer, he has such a solid idea of how the game works, how players need to develop and think and learn, how to put it all together.

"He's genuine as a person and in terms of his ability to look at the game and share his thoughts with players and teams. Any time you spend with him is just special."

In 2005, when Bradley coached the MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls), he was looking for a promising defender. He found one in Hernandez and selected him in the MLS supplemental draft.

By 2006, Bradley was with Chivas and had the No. 1 pick in the draft. He traded it to the Red Bulls for Hernandez and the No. 5 pick and then used that pick to snap up Kljestan.

Just like that, Chivas USA had two players who this year helped turn the club from league doormat in its inaugural season to a playoff contender 12 months later.

Both credit Schellscheidt for helping them.

"Manny, obviously, is a legend in U.S. soccer and college soccer," Hernandez said. "I can honestly say that the reason we went there was because of him ... the way he approaches the game, the way he emphasizes learning and playing the game right.

"He prepared Sacha and myself as well as possible to be ready for this league."

Kljestan, a former U.S. under-20 national team player from Huntington Beach, could have had his pick of any university but chose Seton Hall because of Schellscheidt.

"I learned a lot from him about passion for the game and being patient, learning the game and letting the game come to me," Kljestan said.

Hernandez, 23, is from Englewood, N.J., and was a four-year starter at Seton Hall. He played in only three games in his rookie MLS season but has played in 30 and started 25 this year for Chivas.

"Playing with guys like Carlos Llamosa and Claudio Suarez has helped me a lot," he said.

Kljestan, 21, was a three-year starter at Seton Hall. An attacking midfielder, he scored 20 goals and assisted on 28 others in 60 games for Schellscheidt but has had to change his style since turning pro.

"At Seton Hall, I was the one helping try to get the goals and set up the goals," Kljestan said. "On this team, I've had to learn to be more of a two-way midfielder. I think I've developed a better understanding of the overall game and of being able to play defensively as well as offensively."

Bradley put it a little differently.

"At Seton Hall, he was the player that made the plays that determined the outcome," Bradley said. "When you have a player like that, you give that player extra freedom. To use one of Manfred's phrases, Sacha was the one who was allowed to cheat."

In MLS, that came to an end.

"He's had to become a more honest player," Bradley said. "He's had to become a more two-way player. He has such a good feel for the game and such soccer intelligence that it was just a matter of establishing that we needed him to work both ways."

Kljestan has played in all 33 games and started 31 for Chivas and is one of three finalists, along with teammate Jonathan Bornstein and Real Salt Lake's Mehdi Ballouchy, for MLS rookie-of-the-year honors.

Said Kljestan: "A lot of credit goes to Bob for giving us a lot of confidence to just play and do what we can do and try to make things happen."

As for Bradley, it all traces back to Schellscheidt.

"We always talk about players," he said. "We don't always agree, but I value his opinion on soccer. I value his opinion in life. He's just that kind of person."

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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