KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jéferson has been in Kansas City for a little less than two months, but Sporting Kansas City are still waiting to find out exactly what they have in the Brazilian playmaker.
Most of that uncertainty is due to a quad strain that kept the 27-year-old off the field for the better part of August, forcing manager Peter Vermes to make do without his second Designated Player.
But after a few weeks spent with the training staff and fitness coach Mateus Manoel, Jéferson is beginning to inch back toward 100 percent. He started and played 80 minutes against the LA Galaxy on Monday, ending his three-match stretch in soccer purgatory.
“It was very difficult,” Jéferson said, with Manoel translating. “I’m a guy who doesn’t like to be off the field, especially out of games. I know the need the team has for my skill and ability. It was just killing me day by day.”
And now that he’s back, the Brazilian is eager to show exactly what prompted Vermes to bring him to the Midwest in the first place.
Kansas City acquired Jéferson on loan on July 17 from Vasco da Gama with the hope that midfielder could slot into the attacking midfield spot in the team’s 4-3-3 formation and provide an eye for the final pass to go along with his rasping shot.
So far Jéferson has shown flashes of those abilities, but that hasn’t necessarily translated into production on the field.
He has one assist in five starts – in his league debut, his perfectly weighted through-ball found Omar Bravo for an easy goal against Toronto – but even Jéferson knows he needs to increase his impact on the game in order for Kansas City to reach their goals.
“My job now is to get back and provide what I wasn’t able to provide when I was injured,” he said.
If he can do that, his own future in MLS may be settled as well.
On a personal level, Jéferson is likely playing for a place on the team past this season. His loan expires at the end of the year, at which time Sporting will have to decide whether or not to purchase the player or attempt to extend the loan agreement.
That decision will be almost entirely based on his play during Kansas City’s final seven games and potential playoff run.
“Hopefully, we’re going to see [what he can do] in the next so many games now,” Vermes said. “We want to make the playoffs. That’s an important part of it. If we do, that extends time for him to show even more and how much of an impact he can have. Those are things we need to see going down the line.”
Fortunately for both parties involved, the odds of Jéferson meeting expectations only gets better as the season wears on.
He said MLS has definitely made a better impression that what he imagined when the chance to come to United States materialized. But he also emphasized that he was still getting acclimated to the style of soccer and learning his teammate’s tendencies.
“The physicality of the game here, the number of fouls and amount of contact is all sort of new to me,” Jéferson said.
And even though he hasn’t lit up the scoreboard just yet, Sporting are confident their splashy summer acquisition can deliver when it matters most now that he’s healthy and back in the starting lineup.
“He relieves pressure,” Vermes said. “He can deliver the final pass. When we give him the ball, he can really break a team down.”