Kleberson wants to make championship impact with Union


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.”

As playoffs near, newcomer Alejandro Bedoya delivers message to Union

As playoffs near, newcomer Alejandro Bedoya delivers message to Union

CHESTER, Pa. — When the Union coaches were about to wrap up a team meeting earlier this week, Alejandro Bedoya raised his hand.

The new midfielder had something he wanted to say.

“I was able to give a talk to the team Monday and let them know we’re all in this together, this is the end of the season, guys are playing for their livelihoods really,” Bedoya said Wednesday. “We don’t know what’s gonna happen next season. Some guys are gonna retire, some guys are gonna leave, get traded, go somewhere else. 

“This is a great opportunity we have in front of us now with the playoffs and trying to win an MLS Cup here in Philly.”

Bedoya, of course, is one of the team’s least-tenured players, coming over in August from France for his first stint in MLS. And there are other players on the team who have worn the captain’s armband, including Brian Carroll, Tranquillo Barnetta and Maurice Edu.

But Bedoya, a U.S. national team starter who forged a successful career in Europe, brings a unique viewpoint into what will be his first foray into the MLS Cup playoffs. And Curtin was happy to see his new midfielder emerge as a locker room leader after a lifeless 2-0 loss to Orlando City SC on Sunday sunk the Union's chances of possibly hosting a game when the playoffs begin next week.

“To be honest, it’s one of the first time it’s happened, where guys put their hand up and looked in the mirror, which is important,” Curtin said. “I think that shows good leadership, it shows we are a team that’s in this thing together. It’s kind of commonplace for the coach to take blame and put his hand up because I am ultimately in charge of the lineup and what goes out there. But for whatever reason, on the day it just wasn’t us, it didn’t feel like us. And to have guys recognize that was important.”

Bedoya certainly took his share of the blame for the loss to Orlando, admitting he wasn’t at his best after returning from a rib injury that held him out of two recent U.S. national team games.

To be fair though, nobody was at their best, which made for an awkward situation after the game when the Union learned they all but guaranteed a playoff berth — thanks to a Chicago Fire win over the New England Revolution — but didn’t much feel like celebrating.

“It doesn’t take a genius to look at that game and say that was a lackluster effort at best,” Bedoya said. “For us, it’s just staying optimistic. We know we have a great group of guys. We know we have a good team. When we’re playing well, when we’re on our game, we can compete with anybody in this league.”

The Union will get a chance to show that when they host the New York Red Bulls in Sunday’s regular-season finale (4 p.m., TCN). 

The Red Bulls are an MLS Cup contender and have the top seed in the East all but locked up. The Union are also firmly planted into their own spot, so the game doesn’t have many implications aside from Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips’ Golden Boot chase.

But for the Union, the game is still being viewed as a big one because the last thing they want is to enter the playoffs on a seven-game winless streak — and then, perhaps, enter the offseason on an eight-game winless streak, a dubious distinction that would cast a shadow over the accomplishment of making the playoffs for just the second time in club history.

“It’s very important,” Bedoya said. “I think it’s more than about pride. You gotta play for yourself, for each other. You’re representing this club, this organization, this city. I think we know the last performance was not good enough, not nearly good enough at all. It can only be better. We just have to try to get a result and play our best so we can get some momentum going into the playoffs.”

Considering the Union are playing the best team in the East followed by a playoff game against possibly Toronto FC or New York City FC — two teams loaded with stars — any win from here on out would be considered an upset. 

But Bedoya is a star in his own right, and the team’s new Designated Player is trying his best to spread a positive message heading into what will be the defining moments of the 2016 season.

And his teammates are listening.

“Definitely, he is a big-time player, a guy who can make big plays and make stuff for us and it’s great to have him,” goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “I think on any given day, when all the guys are bought-in and sharp, we can stand up against any team and give it a good run. And I think hopefully this Sunday, we can get back on a run going into the playoffs.”

Winless in 6 straight, Union struggling heading into playoffs

Winless in 6 straight, Union struggling heading into playoffs

CHESTER, Pa. — The Union have mixed emotions about Sunday’s loss. 

Despite an inexplicable and disappointing 2-0 defeat to Orlando City SC at Talen Energy Stadium, the club effectively fell forward into the playoffs (see story)

“It feels funny,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I’m not sure how to feel good about it because we know we can do better.”

That’s because the Union needed help to get in. The New England Revolution, who lost to the Chicago Fire on Sunday, 2-1, would now need a win, a Union loss and gain plus-12 in goal differential in their season finale to unseat the Union. 

The Revs have 39 points and the Union have 42, with one match remaining. In other words, the Union will make the postseason for the first time since 2011. Still, Curtin isn't pleased.

“We could have set ourselves up with a home game,” said Curtin, whose club is assured the No. 5 or No. 6 seed depending on next weekend’s season finale result. “That’s slipped away now. That’s the reality of things and we have to deal with that.”

Aside from the loss bringing the Union down, the club is in a terrible slump that just seems to be getting worse. Curtin’s team is winless in its last six games and hasn’t won a game since late August. The way the Union are trending, making the playoffs but getting unceremoniously ejected in one game is nothing to celebrate.

“You can’t just limp into the playoffs and expect to turn it on,” veteran Chris Pontius said. “That doesn’t happen. If you look at teams that were lower seeds that have made runs, they made runs late in the season leading up to the playoffs, they were good. It could be amazing what one good game could do for people’s confidence so next weekend is big for us.”

If there is good news for the Union, it’s that there is time to recover. The club hosts the New York Red Bulls on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium. And a win could mean the difference between playing Toronto FC, New York City FC or D.C. United. It could also mean much-needed confidence. 

“We will use this last game to have a good performance and something to be proud of for our fans, because they deserve that,” Curtin said. “They deserve better than today. Again, I still wouldn’t want to play us.