Philadelphia Union

Kleberson wants to make championship impact with Union

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Kleberson wants to make championship impact with Union

CHESTER, Pa. -- Days after being introduced to his new team, new city and league, Brazilian midfielder Jose Kleberson made his first public Union debut on Wednesday night at na’Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse in Horsham, Pa.

Even though Union rookie Leo Fernandes had to translate the Brazilian’s words, Kleberson made his expectations clear.

“Not only am I going to bring my experience, but I will bring that Brazilian football to help the Philadelphia Union,” said Kleberson, who was loaned by Brazilian club Bahia for Freddy Adu. “I want to be very successful with my teammates and I want to win an MLS Cup and make the Philadelphia Union into champions.”

Although the 33-year-old has been with the Union for only a handful of training sessions, Union coach John Hackworth was almost giddy with excitement over his new midfielder.

“We’ve had him in training and it’s been good to have him,” said the coach, whose club is 2-2-0 this season. “His quality is evident the minute he steps on the field. He is still in the process of adapting to our team, coaching style, teammates and cold weather in Philadelphia. I don’t think that will change too fast. So far, so good.

“It’s great to have him. I'm really excited to have the kind of quality he has and experience and a player, a man who has won so many trophies in his career, the value he brings is immeasurable.”

Similar to how Adu was banished from the Union for his expensive contract and limited production, Kleberson was pushed out of Brazil. But that doesn’t mean the former Manchester United player is soured by the move.

“I’ve heard a lot about MLS through the years ever since [David] Beckham arrived,” said Kleberson, who was a major player in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup run. “I’m very interested in the league. I’ve always wanted to play here. The soccer is growing a lot and it’s changing a lot, and that’s what interested me the most. With my career and what I have done over the years, it is a good thing to come here. When Philadelphia first contacted me, I was very happy and I had only one thing on my mind, to come over here.”

The Union front office was also thrilled to not only have a good designated player -- but one that isn’t playing toward opportunity elsewhere in the world.

“I can tell you this man wants to be here,” Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz said. “And it’s really gratifying to me to see an international player that respects Major League Soccer, that respects the way we play and has a high regard for the league. So I’m really delighted to welcome Jose.”

With a struggling midfield, Hackworth is eager to get Kleberson’s talents on the field. Bad enough, that despite Kleberson just joining the team, Hackworth hasn’t ruled him out for Saturday’s road match against Columbus Crew.

“He’s a guy we’re talking about a lot right now,” Hackworth said. “He has to be the right choice to give us the best chance to be successful in Columbus. The following point is that we feel like our midfield needs to do a better job with the ball and needs to be better in possession. I don’t think that’s a secret at all. He is certainly a guy who has a really good tactical sense and sense of where he can find the ball, his touches are exceptional. If we feel he’s the best choice for us, he’s available for selection on Saturday.”

Inside Doop: Blowing a lead ahead of toughest game of the season

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Inside Doop: Blowing a lead ahead of toughest game of the season

The Union traveled all the way across the country, scored a couple of goals, and came within seconds of pulling off a huge win over a team that rarely loses at home.

In the end, of course, that will only make Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes even more frustrating as Union coaches and players are well aware that stringing together wins is the only way to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.

In this week’s Inside Doop, we’ll take a look at how a win turned into a draw and the brutally tough week that lies ahead.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. Anyone who’s watched the Union for the last eight seasons knows one-goal leads are never safe in the final minutes, especially on the road. And in San Jose, some of those old ghosts came back to haunt the Union again as a late penalty called on Josh Yaro allowed Chris Wondolowski’s 95th-minute PK to tie the game and spoil an otherwise positive performance. Afterwards, Haris Medunjanin threw his arms up in the air and stormed off the field, the team’s first-year midfielder perhaps learning some of the many frustrations that comes along with being a Union player.

2. Yaro has now made critical mistakes in each of his last three starts, all filling in for Oguchi Onyewu. That’s surely a tough thing for Union fans to swallow considering Yaro was the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft and is not really progressing as well as he should be, injuries aside. Contrast that, meanwhile, with Jack Elliott, the 77th pick in the 2017 draft. Elliott continued to build his case for Rookie of the Year with maybe his pest performance yet, scoring his first MLS goal and looking far more comfortable defensively than Yaro, his center back partner.

3. Questions certainly remain about Roland Alberg’s consistency and chemistry with teammates, but we can’t forget that he’s one of the better ball strikers this team has ever had. He showed that again Saturday with a very nice goal that put the Union ahead 2-1 early in the second half. With Ilsinho hurt, some may have thought promising rookie Adam Najem would assume the No. 10 role. But until the team is eliminated from the playoff contention, Alberg will likely still get the chance to show just how dangerous he can be and perhaps keep racking up the goals.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. Any time a team has to play games Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday, it’s a rough stretch. This one is even harder for the Union considering they had to fly back to Philly from San Jose before they quickly turn around to head to Toronto and face the league’s best team Wednesday, and then come back home to host upstart expansion side Atlanta United FC on Saturday. As always, there will be questions as how head coach Jim Curtin deals with minute management to keep everyone fresh. It might be especially interesting to see if he’d consider resting anyone in Toronto considering even a full-strength Union team has little chance of knocking off Toronto FC, who are currently 9-0-3 at home and maybe even one of the best MLS teams ever assembled. That said, if the Union can pull off the upset, it would be a huge boost toward their playoff push and a moment they’ll remember for a long time.

2. Remember Maurice Edu? The Union midfielder hasn’t played an MLS minute in nearly two years but suited up for USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel on Sunday, playing just over 30 minutes vs. Louisville City. Does that mean he’s ready to play for the Union? Not necessarily. Last year, he made three rehab appearances with Bethlehem, before then getting hurt as he was set to play for the Union. So the coaches may still want to give it a bit more time with the Steel, meaning a trip to Toronto is unlikely.

3. Another player who’s probably closer to returning is Andre Blake, who’s now missed eight straight games because of the Gold Cup and hurting his hand in the tournament final. John McCarthy continues to play well in his absence, but getting Blake back in time to face a star-studded Toronto attack could make a huge difference north of the border.

Stat of the week
With his goal Saturday, Alberg is tied for second on the team in goals this season with five. He also finished second on the team last season in that category, and his 14 total goals in nearly two seasons ranks fifth all time.

Quote of the week
“Both teams needed three points to be honest, so a tie kind of doesn’t do much for either of us at this stage.”

— Union head coach Jim Curtin, after Saturday’s 2-2 draw

Player of the week
On top of his goal, Elliott also helped set up the team’s second goal and made a couple of huge clearances in the box. The rookie was, by far, the team’s best player on the night.

Union squander late lead in San Jose, finish with draw against Earthquakes

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Union squander late lead in San Jose, finish with draw against Earthquakes

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Chris Wondolowski scored on a penalty kick in stoppage time to give the San Jose Earthquakes a 2-2 tie with the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night.

Shea Salinas drew a foul on Joshua Yaro in the penalty area to set up the penalty kick in the 95th minute. With his 10th goal, Wondolowski became the first player in MLS history with eight straight double-digit seasons.

Roland Alberg scored in the 55th to put Philadelphia (8-11-6) up 2-1.

Valeri Qazaishvili scored three minutes for San Joe (9-10-6). He eluded two defenders before punching it between two more defenders.

Jack Elliott tied it in the 35th with his first goal of the season, knocking the ball in on the left side of the net.