CHESTER, Pa. – It’s been less than a week since Kléberson scored one of the most dramatic goals in Philadelphia Union history, breathing life back into the team’s playoff fortunes with one swing of his foot.
But does that mean the World Cup-winning Brazilian, who has played less than 300 minutes all season, will finally earn more playing time when the Union travel to RFK Stadium to face D.C. United on Saturday (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE)?
“I think anytime a player takes an opportunity well, I think it changes things,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “But I wouldn’t say that I would expect wholesale changes.”
While recognizing the importance of Kléberson’s game-winning goal five minutes into stoppage time of last Saturday’s 1-0 win over Toronto FC, Hackworth also pointed to a stretch from May 15-June 25, when Kléberson started three consecutive games, and the Union's results in that stretch: 1-2 when Kléberson played into the second half, allowing four goals to the LA Galaxy and five to the Montreal Impact.
The Brazilian midfielder was then injured in his fourth start – a 1-1 tie with Toronto on June 1 – and has played just 21 total minutes since then. It does not appear he will work his way back into the starting lineup this weekend, even though the Union have failed to score more than one goal in 11 of their last 13 games (the two exceptions came against Saturday's opponent, D.C. United, and Western Conference straggler Chivas USA).
“Kléberson started earlier in the year, and you guys can go back and look at those results,” Hackworth said. “It wasn’t necessarily [his fault]. He got injured against Toronto, and he was out for a long time, so that changed some dynamics altogether.”
Hackworth said Kléberson’s late appearance against Toronto was due to a tactical adjustment, and the Union manager said that will likely factor into Kléberson’s playing time in future matchups.
“But to be fair, he still is working extremely hard,” Hackworth said. “He has some great qualities, and we’re going to try to put the best team on the field against D.C. – and he certainly didn’t hurt his chances by scoring that goal the way he did.”
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Perhaps the more pressing lineup concerns have to do with last-place D.C. United, who fielded an extremely young team the last time they faced Philly. But even if D.C. United coach Ben Olsen goes with a mostly untested lineup, Hackworth expects a stiff challenge from the US Open Cup champs this weekend, not only because they can play the role of spoiler, but also because many of their players will be trying to earn their next contract.
“I know Ben, and Ben is a competitor, and that is evident in how he played the game and how he coaches the game,” Hackworth said. “So there is no question in my mind that he is going to have the guys ready to play. I know that they’ll try to win the game, they’ll put a team on the field that they think can win the game – and mixed in there will probably be some changes and some young players.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.