Union's Kleberson shines in starting debut

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Union's Kleberson shines in starting debut

CHESTER, Pa. -- Though optimism was limited following the Union’s 4-1 loss to the LA Galaxy on Wednesday at PPL Park (see story), Kleberson provided a lone bright spot.

Earning a start and playing a full 90-minutes for the first time since being acquired for Freddy Adu on March 25, the Brazilian was a revelation at midfield for the Union, who desperately needed it.

“Jose did a good job in his first start,” said Union coach John Hackworth. “You see a lot of good qualities there. Good performance by him, especially to start. Probably tough for him to play 90 but you have to get the game minutes in. We weren’t thinking of playing him the full 90, but your thought is to keep a guy of that quality in the game.”

Kleberson’s quality was evident from the start, as he consistently threaded feathered passes to streaking Union forwards. The perfect compliment to speedy players like Sebastien Le Toux, Jack McInerney and Danny Cruz, Kleberson’s creativity opened another dimension to the Union offense not previously seen with Keon Daniel manning the central attacking midfielder position.

“It felt very natural,” Kleberson said through a translator. “I was content to start the game and an important game at that. I tried to give my best to the team and leave it on the field. The Galaxy have quality players which made it difficult.”

But playmaking isn’t all the 33-year old did in his first start. In just the ninth minute, Kleberson connected on a Daniel corner cross that was miraculously saved by the Galaxy’s Carlo Cudicini. He  finished the match with game-high eight shots, while the rest of the Union combined for nine.

“He was great,” said Union forward Sebastien Le Toux. “He did a lot of good things on the field, especially after coming here just months ago. You could see his quality from the beginning and for me to be able to play with him was great.”

While Wednesday could be considered Kleberson’s breakout game in MLS, his talent wasn’t a total secret. Playing 11 minutes in the Union’s 1-1 draw against Toronto FC on April 13, the midfielder nearly pushed the Union to victory, sending Antoine Hoppenot on a late-game breakaway. Despite his eye-opening play, Kleberson totaled just 29 minutes in seven games with the Union before his start against the Galaxy.

And that was just fine with him.

“I was looking forward to getting my first start,” Kleberson said. “Coming here, adjusting to the American game and waiting on the bench, I have been observing it the last few weeks. To get my first start was a big deal to me. I’m glad John Hackworth had the confidence in me and I wanted to reward him for that confidence.”

According to Hackworth, Kleberson’s lack of playing time was a direct result of his fitness as the coach didn’t feel like Kleberson could manage a productive 90 minutes. And though he ran out of gas late in the game, he still left an impression.

“He had a good game though he might have been a bit tired at the end since he hasn’t played,” said Le Toux. “But you can see his creativity and he will continue to do that and get better after every game.”

Asked if his first start means he will be in the starting lineup on Saturday against the Chicago Fire, Kleberson just shrugged.

“That’s up to John, he makes the decisions that are best for the team,” he said. “I will follow whatever that is.”

Union suffer 1st loss of season to Cyle Larin, Orlando City

Union suffer 1st loss of season to Cyle Larin, Orlando City

BOX SCORE

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Cyle Larin scored twice, including the game-winner in the 73rd minute, and Orlando City won its second straight to open the season 2-1 over the Union on Saturday.

With the score tied at one with 15 minutes left, Larin found his way behind the middle of the Union defense thanks to a streaking pass from Carlos Rivas and beat goalkeeper Andre Blake for the game-winner. The forward has accounted for all three Orlando City goals this season.

After Larin gave Orlando City (2-0-0) the lead in the 39th minute, C.J. Sapong found the back of the net with a header to tie the score in the 52nd minute. The Union (0-1-2) had a final opportunity to tie it in the 93rd minute, but Alejandro Bedoya's header was denied by Joe Bendik.

The Union are winless in their last 10 matches dating back to last season.

Orlando, whose March 11 game against New England was postponed due to extreme cold, was playing its first game without injured captain Kaka. Kaka injured his hamstring in the season opener with New York City FC.

Union-Orlando City 5 Things: Bracing for the Kaka-less Lions

Union-Orlando City 5 Things: Bracing for the Kaka-less Lions

Union at Orlando City SC 
Saturday 7:30 p.m., The Comcast Network

After two straight draws to start the 2017 season, the undefeated and winless Union (0-0-2) hit the road to face an Orlando City SC (1-0-0) team that will be missing one of the league's marquee players. 

Here are five things to know:

1. Striker status
After starting striker Jay Simpson scored 11 minutes into his home debut last week, he was forced to the locker room with an injury -- and then to the hospital after he frighteningly began coughing up blood. 

Luckily for the Union, head coach Jim Curtin says the injury -- a bruised lung -- doesn't appear to be serious. But considering he hasn't practiced most of the week, it seems doubtful he'll play in Orlando.

"He's a tough kid," Curtin said. "He probably had another goal or two in him, so that was disappointing. But injuries are part of the game and he'll have to recover now."

The Union are fortunate to have a more-than-serviceable replacement in C.J. Sapong, who came in for Simpson and scored the game-tying goal in last week's 2-2 draw with reigning MLS Cup finalist Toronto FC. 

"I'm happy with where C.J. is," Curtin said. "We know what he's all about. He'll fight for the Union badge, he'll give everything he has every day in training, whether he's starting or coming off the bench."

2. No Kaka
Just like Simpson, Orlando City SC star Kaka exited in the 11th minute of his home debut two weeks ago. But his situation is more serious as the Brazilian midfielder will miss a few weeks with a hamstring injury.

It's naturally a tough blow for Orlando but the Lions have an interesting option to replace him in Giles Barnes, a proven MLS player who assisted on Orlando's only goal in their season-opening 1-0 win over New York City FC. 

"He brings an element of speed," Curtin said. "He's a dynamic player, dangerous. And he's at a new club so he's looking to impress his head coach."

Midfielder Matias Perez Garcia will likely also see an expanded role with Kaka out, teaming with Barnes, Carlos Rivas and 2015 Rookie of the Year Cyle Larin in a dangerous four-man attacking front.

"Cycle is a great presence," Curtin said. "Twelve yards in, he's as good of a finisher as we have in our league."

3. No Mickey Mouse environment
Due to a weird scheduling quirk, the Lions will play their second straight game in their sparkling new stadium without having yet to leave Orlando. That's because their scheduled game in New England last week was postponed due to extreme cold.

It's hard to know if having a week off will hurt their momentum or if staying home will prove to be an ideal start to their 2017 campaign. Either way, Curtin is expecting a daunting atmosphere in Orlando -- even if the team is excited to get away from the cold.

"Everyone thinks about Disney and thinks it's a happy, smiley, kid-friendly place," the Union coach said. "I can tell you the Orlando fans are an intimidating group -- nothing Mickey Mouse about their group of supporters, that's for sure. 

"It's one of the few places where I get a police escort in and out of the building, I'll just put it that way. The police officers are actually very friendly, which is good."

4. Keep an eye on
Joe Bendik:
Aside from Larin and maybe new center back Jonathan Spector, no one was better in Orlando's opener than Bendik, who made a few sparkling saves, including the top one of the week. Between him and Union standout Andre Blake, we could be looking at a game with a few highlight-reel stops.

Derrick Jones: The 20-year-old defensive midfielder has had a terrific start to the season in his first two MLS games. But this will be another stiff test for Jones, who Curtin said is drawing praise from around the league, including coaches and execs from Toronto. "He's an exciting player in a position where I think the work sometimes goes unnoticed," Curtin said. "He's doing it in a way where a lot of people are taking notice in a position that maybe isn't the most glamorous."

5. This and that
• After missing the first two games with a hamstring injury, Ilsinho is expected to be available to make his season debut. He'd likely come off the bench with Fabian Herbers cementing his role on the right wing.

• Both of the Union's previous two games in Orlando have ended in draws but Philly leads the all-time series, 2-1-2. 

• Dating back to last season, the Union are winless in their last nine regular-season matches.

• Sarpong's goal last week was his fourth off the bench for the Union. Only four Union players have ever scored more off the bench with former super-sub Antoine Hoppenot leading the way with seven.