Philadelphia Union defender Fabinho making the most of opportunity, could become permanent starter

Fabinho and Sebastian Le Toux battle with Dilly Duka

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USA Today sports

CHESTER, Pa. – Fabinho has made two starts in his MLS career and the Philadelphia Union haven’t given up a goal in either of them.

It’s a streak that Philly will look to continue Sunday vs. New England at Gillette Stadium (7:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live) as Fabinho is poised to make his third straight start at left back in place of the injured Ray Gaddis.

“It hasn’t been a seamless transition but it’s been pretty good,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “Fabinho is a different player than Ray but it’s been good for us. A guy like Fabinho comes in during the summer transfer window and now he’s contributing on both sides of the ball.”

Gaddis had started every game this season until spraining his ankle during a 2-1 loss to Chicago on Aug. 3. It initially looked like he might be back by now but Hackworth said Gaddis tweaked his ankle during training this week and that the training staff is being cautious with his recovery.

One reason for the caution might be because of what his replacement has done with the opportunity. Even with the backline shakeup, Hackworth believes the Union defense is playing as well as it has all season, highlighted by last weekend’s shutout draw at Red Bull Arena.

“I think the performance against New York was exceptional,” the Union manager said. “They were at full strength and I thought they were really good – but, at the same time, I thought we did an unbelievable job shutting them down.”

The Revs aren’t as dynamic offensively as the Red Bulls but will still present a challenge for the Philly defense in a game that Hackworth said will have a “playoff feel” in a “hostile environment.” New England (9-9-6) currently sits five points behind the Union (10-7-8) with a game in hand as they battle for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots.

“As the year goes on, you want to ramp up your level of play in all areas,” Hackworth said. “If we’re going to be a team that contends for anything at the end of the year, we have to improve. And we’re certainly doing that on the defensive side.”

And if the Union are able to put another strong defensive performance together in New England, Fabinho’s place in the starting lineup will likely become even less temporary.

“I think once Ray is back and 100 percent,” Hackworth said, “there will definitely be a serious battle for that position.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.