CHESTER, Pa. – Could Kléberson be the answer to the Philadelphia Union’s midfield woes?
After playing just 29 minutes through his first six games in MLS, the Designated Player on loan from Brazilian club Bahia has started the last two contests for Philly and drawn praise from his coaches and teammates.
“I think he adds an attacking threat we’ve been needing,” Union right back Sheanon Williams told MLSsoccer.com. “He looks forward, which is good for us. And with Jack [McInerney] and [Sébastien Le Toux] making the runs they like to make, he’s a person that can play the ball into the right spots and give them a chance to run on and get forward. He’s given us a lot and we’re happy to have him.”
Playing in a central midfield role, Kléberson was particularly good against the LA Galaxy last Wednesday, uncorking eight shots while showing the kind of technical ability few players on the team can match.
“I think he draws some attention, which gives me a little bit more room to get extra time to find somebody and switch play,” said Carroll, who plays behind Kléberson in the central midfield. “Any time you can get a World Cup veteran contributing to your squad, it’s a great thing.”
While Union manager John Hackworth has continually dismissed the notion that Philly’s midfield has struggled this season, the truth is that aside from Danny Cruz, Union midfielders have accounted for zero goals and one assist through the first 12 games.
Perhaps that’s one reason Hackworth opted not to start Keon Daniel this past weekend, instead handing Kléberson the keys to the car. It was the first time since March that Daniel – who has been the team’s central attacking midfielder for most of the year – did not start.
“I’ve been waiting for a few weeks but I wanted to enter matches when John was ready for me to,” Kléberson said through a translator. "I’m not a young player. I’m a veteran. And I’m always going to give my best for this team.”
The 33-year-old Brazilian went on to say that he needs to get more accustomed to the physicality and speed of MLS, and to better deal with short turnarounds between matches.
But if the last two games are any indication, he appears primed to hold onto his starting spot moving forward.
“He’s waited his time and sat behind a couple of guys,” Williams said. “Now it’s his time and he’s done well.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.