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Season review: Kléberson

Photo: Paul Rudderow

How does one judge a player like José Kléberson and the season he’s just had?

The former World Cup winner arrived in the offseason in a trade with Brazil’s Bahia, which sent Freddy Adu in the other direction. Salary wonks praised the trade, saying that even if Kléberson did not play at all, paying for one year of his salary versus two years of Adu’s was a win.

But no one thought that a man with such pedigree would sit on the bench for long. Even if he had struggled to make an impact elsewhere in the last few stops on his career, surely he could be a solid contributor, even a star, in MLS.

Indeed, once Kléberson did make it to the field after getting his fitness right, there were glimpses of what he might bring. Sharp passes that probed the opposition’s final third, an eagerness to push the play and move the ball forward—Kléberson brought all of that.

There was also a little bit of laziness, or lack of sharpness. Perhaps Kléberson was not ready for the rough-and-tumble of such a physical league as MLS. He didn’t track back very hard on defense, trailing the play while opponents scored. But every player has growing pains in a new league. When a minor injury forced him out of the starting lineup, the fans couldn’t wait to see what Kléberson would do on his return.

They had a long wait ahead of them. After starting four straight games in late May and early June, Kléberson was an unused sub in the next 12 games. He saw ten minutes as a substitute against Montreal on August 31, then didn’t see the field for three more games. In all, that’s 10 minutes of playing time across 16 games, spanning nearly four months. The second half of that period was marked by the Union’s offensive collapse, when what the team needed most was someone who could unlock a defense with a pass, who could see angles defenses wouldn’t anticipate. The Union needed Kléberson, or someone like him, but he sat glued to the subs bench, game in, game out.

Of course, he was brought back from the wilderness, eventually. When all the chips were down, John Hackworth rolled the dice and turned to Kléberson. His free kick to beat Toronto in early October is surely one of the highlights of the season, and the fact that he was capable of such made his long absence all the more puzzling.

Hackworth has never given a satisfactory explanation for why he waited so long to play the Brazilian, so we likely will never know why Kléberson didn’t see more time. In fairness, after his game-winner, Kléberson started the final three games of the season and the Union failed to win any of them. Adding him to the equation wasn’t a magic panacea for the Union’s woes, either.

And yet.

What could have been? That is the question on all Union fans’ lips. With Hackworth confirming that it is very unlikely Kléberson will stay with the Union, barring a large pay cut, all we have is what-ifs.

High point Kleberson 2013 stats


Low point

It’s hard to say Kléberson had a low point, given how little he played, but if forced to choose, it would be his performance in the 5–3 loss to Montreal on May 25th, when he was outplayed and outhustled by Patrice Bernier.


Kléberson’s primary strengths lie in his offensive passing and vision. His ability to create offense with the ball at his feet was superior to that of anyone else in a Union uniform this season. Oh, and his free kicks ain’t bad, either.


Kléberson’s main weakness is his laziness. Especially in his first few games, he seemed unprepared for the level of physical effort required to compete in MLS. This improved in his late-season reappearance but was obvious at the start of the season.


He doesn’t seem to have one, as far as the Union are concerned, having been waived yesterday. Were he to return, he’d likely nail down the No. 10 spot or be forced to fight for it against an offseason acquisition. He certainly has the tools, and if 2013’s benching instilled in him the appropriate level of motivation, he could be an impact player.

However, it does not appear he will be returning. At 34 years of age, perhaps that is for the best. The Union have stressed time and again that they are building a team for the long haul. Unless another year or two of Kléberson could reasonably put the team into the conversation for the MLS Cup, his salary money is probably better spent elsewhere.

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