Hero for a day: Kleberson emerges from shadows

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Most fans have come to expect over the years that their favorite team’s highest paid player would convert the big play in the clutch to seal an important win. Michael Jordan, Albert Pujols, Peyton Manning, Sidney Crosby, even Landon Donovan to an extent. These are the types of players that seal their legacy by delivering when the chips are down.

Then there is Jose Kleberson.

The Brazilian’s name doesn’t belong on the list with the others. It’s more of a contrast to give an idea about the strange situation Kleberson finds himself in.

“The expiring contract”

If you’ve listened to the Philly Soccer Show, our own Greg Orlandini had this pegged early on. Kleberson is the MLS equivalent of the NBA expiring contract. He is clearly not in John Hackworth’s long-term plans. He’s a 34-year-old central midfielder on a team full of those types.

There is a balance between winning now and building for the future. Would Kleberson mean any more in the point total for 2013? That’s not an easy question to answer. Why start a guy who isn’t going to factor into the future, whose place on this roster amounts to an early conclusion to the failed Freddy Adu experiment?

Desperation calls for desperate measures

Until Saturday night, Kleberson had made one appearance in the last four months. He was injured on June 1, but he was included in the 18 on July 21st at PPL Park against Portland. It’s not like the Union center midfield has been churning out solid performances. For a World Cup champion to only make one substitute appearance in the last 11 matches for a team struggling for quality in that area is baffling.

This is not to say that Kleberson should be an automatic starter. His only solid run of starts concluded with that June 1 injury, with dwindling performances in each start leading up to the injury.

But as a substitute? As a team is sinking past the pivotal fifth place line in their conference? In matches where the dearth of ideas being asserted from midfield has been and remains a real concern? Why the heck not?

For whatever reason, John Hackworth changed his thinking on Saturday. Maybe it was because the situation was dire. Instead of further cementing that final playoff position, the Union were coming up short again, just like that demoralizing 5-1 loss at New England. Fabinho had put Philadelphia down a man. The coach had already pulled the team’s leading scorer (Jack McInerney) and the only forward that has scored in over 2 months (Conor Casey).

So, with hope fading, Hackworth called Kleberson’s number.

The Brazilian may well have saved the season with one late free kick.

But as any Union observer might glean from the situation, even that moment of sheer brilliance may not buy him another chance.

Legend in the making?

Faryd Mondragon continues to sit in the hearts of many Union fans as one of the key reasons Philadelphia made the playoffs in 2011. While his stats don’t show him to be the most efficient keeper in MLS history, he was the guy that settled the defense and brought about a new belief to a team that gushed goals in its inaugural season.

Obviously, Mondragon’s renown stands alone at this point, but Kleberson may have carved his own place in Philadelphia Union history, even if he never sees the pitch at PPL Park again.

2013 has been a strange season. With the Fire and Revolution within striking distance of the Union, a playoff spot is in no way a given. Yet with all of the midfield dysfunction, the rise and fall of a budding young striker, and without a hint of efficacy from either wing in most matches, the Union are nearly there.

It could all come down to a couple of points seized on a warm October evening by the highest paid player on the team.

It’s only remarkable if you know the whole story.


  1. There is a balance between winning now and building for the future.

    There is, but I maintain it doesn’t apply to the Union. 1) This is soccer, the draft is of little important. The idea of a top 5 pick doesn’t (or, I think, shouldn’t) be thought of some sort of holy grail for a team. The best players no longer come from the draft.

    Also, it is not like the Union is full of young, promising players that Hackworth is playing in Kleb’s place. His favorite pairing is Carrol and Daniel. Both are established, known quantities. With Farfan struggling, the only player who would even fit the “for the future” stereotypes plays less than Kleb – Torres.

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    I agree and other than the obvious exclusions (when he was injured) I think that is why it is such a mystery that Kleberson never played. The U clearly needed something different in the midfield over the past 2 full months yet Kelberson never saw the field… not even as a sub (I’m sure that’s not 100% accurate! but you get my point). If he’s cheap, I would keep him around next year, but I KNOW that won’t happen.
    I think he at least earned a start next week, especially with Fabinho out. I know they don’t play the same position but there is an opening. Give it a shot format least a half.

  3. Great article. Knowing the whole story made that goal even better than it was. Watching Kleberson run to the stands afterward made it even better than it was. Knowing that I’ve been screaming for his inclusion (I’ll take as a sub) all year made it better. Seeing that Hackworth finally put him in when desperation was setting and you needed those points made it better. I remember when Capello finally played Beckham at the end of the year in ’07 and Madrid won La Liga and he said he should’ve played him sooner. A good coach fixes his mistakes. Let’s hope Hackworth isn’t so prideful for the rest of the season.

  4. To say we have failed in the midfield this season is an understatement. Our combined midfield output from an offensive perspective the entire season I believe is 3 goals from Cruz. This is half the output of just Gabriel Gomez from last season. He would have been a welcome addition to this seasons midfield all things considered.

    • Depends what you mean by “offensive perspective” really. If you mean goals, Cruz has 3, Le Toux has 3, Carroll has 2, Farfan has 1, Kleberson has 1 (obviously). If it includes assists, Le Toux has 12, Cruz has 2, Fabinho has 2, Carroll has 1, Daniel has 1, and Farfan has 1.

      Now, yes, some of Le Toux’s goals and assists came while he was playing forward. At least one of Fabinho’s assists came while he was playing mid, but the other could’ve been while he was in at FB. Counting all of that, though, they have 10 goals and 20 assists.
      (For comparison, last year’s midfield had a total of 15 goals and 11 assists; in 2011, the midfield looks to have had 15 goals and 15 assists. [note: Le Toux is listed as a F-M in 2011, but I didn’t count any of his numbers here, since he played almost exclusively as a forward that year])
      So that’s more overall production than last year, and even with 2011 – with three games to play.
      (Damn, I feel *dirty* having defended this group of midfielders… I need a shower…)

      • You should feel dirty defending a group of midfielders who are dead last (or right next door) in every statistical offensive category in MLS. C’mon John, don’t drink the kool-aid!

      • He isn’t drinking the kool aid for pointing it a fact

      • I’m not drinking the kool-aid. I’m pointing out that A) Rick’s statement that they’ve scored 3 goals all year is very wrong; B) they’re offensive production is better than last year.
        But last year sucked. It sucked part of my soul, it sucked eggs, it did a lot of sucking. So saying something is better than last year is like complimenting somebody for being the tallest midget in the circus. But you don’t need to resort to either false claims or hyperbole (it could be either) to prove this midfield is terribad on several levels. It took me 30 seconds to find those stats, right on the Union’s website.

      • Would it be a nice time to mention the name Pajoy? 11 assists in a season where half was spent with a guy up front who couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn from a foot and a half.

  5. TruthTalker says:

    I will never understand why people like Earl Reed will continually say the “Failed Adu Experiment”. Though he may not have been the best person in the locker-room (and there was never true evidence of that btw) we can also say that the talent on the pitch failed Freddy Adu as well. You cannot sit there and say he was a total failure, and then watch the numerous quality chances he set up for Nut-Sackinerny..and Pahoy and others.

    • There’s a youtube video that shows all the chances Freddy setup that his teammates failed to finish. And while you wouldn’t expect all of them to be banged home by quality strikers, it’s amazing just how many moments are in the “highlight” video. So yes, with a better striker on the roster Freddy probably has a lot more assists, teams have to adjust to cover him differently opening up room for others, and so on.
      But… let’s also not pretend that Freddy didn’t come with some baggage. Probably not of his own creation, but it was there none the less. And some of that baggage made its way onto the field, where you could see times where Freddy was trying to do too much, trying too hard to be “the man” when he really just needed to be “a man” – one of eleven guys making it happen.
      He really hasn’t had a tremendous amount of success anywhere he’s gone. So either he’s always got crappy strikers, or there’s something to the idea that Adu is a bust, another in a line of young American athletes brought down by hype and the pressure that goes with it.

      • While Freddy’s attitude and track record is certainly in question, who’s to say he still wouldn’t be buried on the bench by Hackworth?
        We’re seeing Torres fight for a position in the team, and he’s not getting time. By all accounts, Torres has had a positive attitude and has even improved his defensive duties.
        At the end of the day, Hackworth doesn’t rate guys that don’t fit his system of holding the middle while playing through the wings.

    • I’m with you there. Adu always seemed to be judged by his value (i.e. the fact that they paid too much for him) rather than his absolute qualities. To me, he seems better than Cruz, Fabinho, and Lahoud.

      Have we seen this kind of stuff from our midfield:

      Once Klebes is gone, we’ll see what the U do with the flexibility provided by this move.

    • The experiment DID fail. They signed him. They played him. It didn’t work out the way they hoped. Whether that’s the Union’s fault or Adu’s fault is irrelevant. The choice to sign him to a big money DP contract ended up a bad one in the end. It doesn’t say that Adu himself was the failure. (He was undoubtedly misused by his managers.) The transaction, however, was undoubtedly a failure.

    • Sorry, I forgot the 2 MLS Cups the team won with Adu bossing the midfield. You’re right, it was a rousing success.

  6. I understand that it is important to have a balance between building for the future and winning now. But, we’ve seen through Di Vaio, Beckham, GBS, and others that older players can take a team to the next level.
    The current Union midfield is one of the worst in the leage. At 34, Kleberson could have a few more years left in the tank, especially when you consider how little mileage he’s had on his legs. Rather than replacing Kleberson with an unknown going forward, the team could build upon the roster and focus on other needs.

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