CHESTER, Pa. — When Toronto FC took a 2-1 lead in the second half Saturday, Philadelphia Union winger Fabian Herbers felt a surge of adrenaline, unhappy that his team fell behind in a game he thought they were outplaying the reigning MLS Cup finalists.
So he decided to do something about.
Taking a pass from Haris Medujanin in the middle of the field, Herbers pushed forward, drew the defense toward him and slipped a sublime through ball to C.J. Sapong, who beat Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin for the 73rd-minute equalizer — allowing the Union to take a point from one of the league’s top teams.
“I turned and the midfield was pretty open,” Herbers told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “I thought Michael Bradley was a little bit tired; he didn’t want to chase me that much. C.J. made a good run and I saw the open guy. I put him through, he dribbled around the keeper, and he had a great goal.”
Coming through with big assists is nothing new for Herbers, who led the team with seven helpers during his rookie season last year. But Herbers only started 13 games in 2016 and, early in the campaign, was mostly utilized as a forward.
Now, the second-year player out of Creighton is quickly cementing his role on the right wing — and one of the team’s most indispensable passers.
“I started as a striker last season,” he said. “Now they put me out on the right wing because they can see I can also pass. I’m not just a pure goalscorer.”
Starting the first two games of the season certainly shows how valuable Herbers is to this team, considering he’s battling the skillful Ilsinho (who has been dealing with an injury) and the speedy Fafa Picault, among others, for time.
And he’s certainly impressed his teammates, who see the 23-year-old seizing his moment.
“I love him because when he goes forward, he plays well; when he has to defend, he defends well,” left back Fabinho said. “He did a good job today. When you have the opportunity, you have to take it because you don’t know when you’ll have an opportunity again.”
And Herbers looks primed to take the next leap in his career after a rookie season that, in many ways, served as a learning experience.
“I’m pretty confident,” he said. “I know what my role is on the team. I know what’s expected of me. Last year, you come as a rookie and you’re quite a bit shy and you don’t know where you belong yet and the confidence is not as high. So basically, the confidence level is different in the second year. It’s way better.”