CHESTER, Pa. – It looks like Kléberson might be taking steps toward playing more of a role for the Philadelphia Union.
But if anything, they’re baby steps.
On Wednesday, Union manager John Hackworth reiterated his stance that the team’s new Designated Player will have to earn his minutes and that the Brazilian midfielder still needs time to adjust to his new surroundings.
“Kléberson is a guy that continues to get acclimated here and we’re trying to get him to a point where we feel he can play more minutes,” Hackworth said. "But we’re not going to force that. He’s a good player. But he has not played a full 90 minutes in an awful long time. So we have to prepare to do that. We don’t want to put him in a situation where he’s not ready.”
Since being acquired on loan on March 25 in part of the deal that sent Freddy Adu to the Brazilian club Bahia, Kléberson has been active for four games but has played only 29 total minutes, most recently coming off the bench in last Saturday’s 2-0 loss to New England.
Hackworth noted that a lot of factors have played into the former World Cup champ’s limited role, including the matchups and the playing surfaces. For instance, the Union manager thought the turf at Gillette Stadium might be difficult for the 33-year-old because he hasn’t “played very much on turf at all.”
Hackworth has also been happy with the performance of Keon Daniel as Philly’s central attacking midfielder, a role that’s probably best suited for Kléberson on this team. Daniel has started seven of the club’s eight games this season but was subbed out of the game in favor of Kléberson this past Saturday, marking the first time in April that Daniel didn’t play a full 90 minutes.
“Keon, in a lot of ways, has been one of our best players this year,” Hackworth said. “And he has qualities that other players don’t have. Quite honestly, Keon has superior technique to anyone on our team. I don’t care who you throw in there. He’s just that good. So I don’t think it’s a Kléberson vs. Keon situation – although it might come down to that.”
Could that happen on Saturday when the Union return home after two straight road matches to host the Seattle Sounders at PPL Park (4 pm ET, MLS LIVE)?
“I think he’s now in a position where he is ready to take another step forward,” Hackworth said. “But without giving too much away here, we should realize that he’s a player that, with all the experience he has, needs to be fully prepared to play a full 90 minutes. And this league is much different than anything he’s experienced previously in his career.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.