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Rarely-used Kleberson buries winner for Philadelphia Union: "I needed to show the fans I could score"

CHESTER, Pa. – Ray Gaddis said he blacked out. Michael Farfan felt like crying. Danny Cruz hoped no cameras were on him because he “looked like a little kid on Christmas.” Sheanon Williams “screamed like a little girl all the way down the field.”

Kleberson’s game-winning goal in the final minutes of Saturday’s 1-0 win over Toronto FC certainly elicited a variety of different reactions from the Philadelphia Union players. But all of them agreed on one thing: it’s a moment they’ll never forget.

“I was just talking to Amobi [Okugo] and that’s definitely right up there with one of the best moments in franchise history” said Williams, who’s been a member of the Union since the club’s expansion season in 2010. “That was unbelievable.”

The Union have scored stoppage-time goals before but this one was as unlikely and dramatic as any of them.

First, you have to factor in the stakes. Had the Union not been able to score, they would have remained on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff race, instead of climbing back up into fifth place as they did with the win; secondly, they were playing down a man following a red card shown to fellow Brazilian Fabinho in the 77th minute; and then, of course, there’s the fact that Kleberson has been absolutely buried on the bench, playing a grand total of 10 minutes over the last 16 games before coming on as a 79th-minute sub Saturday.

But none of that mattered as the Brazilian World Cup veteran confidently stepped up to take a free kick from about 25 yards out after Antoine Hoppenot drew a penalty kick deep into stoppage time of a scoreless draw. And it didn’t matter as he majestically placed the ball into the right corner of the net, freezing Toronto goalkeeper Joe Bendik and sending the PPL Park crowd into a frenzy.

“He deserves it,” Cruz said. “He works so hard every day. He’s the definition of a true professional even when he hasn’t been playing.”

“Since he’s been here, he’s been the ultimate professional,” Williams added. “I’m sure he’s not happy with the time he’s getting. He certainly made the most of his opportunity he had tonight. He’s worked so hard in practice and I’m extremely happy for him.”

While Kleberson’s constant omission from the lineup has been questioned by fans and reporters alike, the Brazilian himself has seem to handle his role in stride, however minimal it’s been. And it’s hard to think of a better reward for his patience than a sold-out crowd chanting his name as he walked off the field following Saturday’s thrilling victory.

“I’m very happy,” Kleberson said through translator, teammate and friend Leo Fernandes. “I feel like the fans needed this. And I needed to show the fans that I could score a goal. I’m very, very happy this moment came.”

So are his teammates.

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