There was a heartwarming subplot when Charlotte FC made its Major League Soccer home debut in front of a record-setting crowd at Bank of America Stadium against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday night.
In 2010, Galaxy player Sacha Kljestan — then a member of the now-defunct Chivas USA — visited a cancer patient at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and gave that young soccer fan a jersey. Now, 12 years later, that young fan is 20 years old and is a professional soccer player himself. Chris Hegardt is a rookie midfielder for expansion Charlotte FC.
"I gave him a jersey once, hopefully he will give me his tomorrow!" Kljestan tweeted Friday.
My wife and I visited this young man back in 2010 at Children’s Hospital LA. Today I ran into his parents in our hotel lobby in Charlotte. His name is Chris Hegardt and he’s a rookie midfielder for @CharlotteFC. I gave him a jersey once, hopefully he will give me his tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/NhXiVIAGzp
— Sacha Kljestan (@SachaKljestan) March 4, 2022
Follow the Galaxy's 1-0 win, the two met on the field and had their anticipated jersey exchange. While neither Kljestan nor Hegardt were in the starting lineups for their respective teams, both players entered as second-half subs and for a few minutes were simultaneously on the field.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 6, 2022
In December 2009, the then-7-year-old Hegardt was hospitalized after being struck in the stomach with the ball while playing in a soccer tournament. The ball had ruptured a tumor on his liver, requiring emergency surgery. A biopsy later revealed that Hegardt had malignant cancer covering a third of his liver. He went through six rounds of chemotherapy and a liver transplant.
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Kljestan is in his third season with the LA Galaxy and has played previously for Orlando City SC, New York Red Bulls and Chivas USA while in MLS. His professional soccer career also includes playing five seasons for Anderlecht in the Belgian First Division and making 52 appearances for the U.S. men's national soccer team.
Hegardt played two seasons of college soccer at Georgetown. He played two seasons for the Tacoma Defiance of the USL Championship and was traded to Charlotte FC in January.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Galaxy's Sacha Kljestan visited Charlotte player in hospital in 2010