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 spoil 3-goal lead to Impact, remain winless with draw

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USA Today Images

Union spoil 3-goal lead to Impact, remain winless with draw

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- Under normal circumstances, ending a four-game losing streak with a draw would be a welcome sight for the struggling Union

But after giving up three consecutive goals to draw the Montreal Impact, 3-3, Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, Jim Curtin's club won't be celebrating this one. 

"Pure frustration," Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "I'm at a loss for words. To be up 3-0 at home and lose, I mean, it feels like a loss, it's hard to stomach. This team deserves a lot better. The fans deserve a lot better."

Through the first 40 minutes, the winless Union (0-4-3) were on track to an easy victory.

Pressing the Impact back line, C.J. Sapong, in the fifth minute, pounced on a turnover just outside the Impact box and while being hauled down, slid a pass to a trailing Roland Alberg, who beat his man and played a shot gently past Evan Bush for the easy goal and 1-0 Union lead.

"Haris played the ball in and it went over my head, so I tried to get closer to the goal," Sapong said. "Pontius put it back across, and pretty easy finish for me."

With momentum, the Union doubled and triple their lead in the 23rd and 38th minute. First, a perfectly placed ball by Haris Medunjanin was headed back across the box by Chris Pontius to Sapong, who made no mistake with his fourth of the season. That goal was followed by an in-box foul on rookie defender Jack Elliott, which gave Alberg a penalty kick and his second of the game.

"We talked about intensity, we talked about out-competing and winning our one-on-one battles," Bedoya said. "We were able to do that."

Taking the shot, Alberg banked it off Bush and in for the 3-0 Union advantage. It was exactly what the winless Union needed. But then the situation drastically.

Ignacio Piatti began the 1-2-4 Impact's climb back in the 41st minute, making it 3-1 when he fired through the Union's backline before finding a gap and taking a shot that beat Andre Blake to the right side. 

"It hurt," Curtin said about the goal. "To go into half 3-0 is better than the scenario where they get a little life and momentum on their side. It's disappointing. Piatti is a special player. We had a lot of things we could have done better on that goal, but at the same time, to score three goals in a half should be good enough to finish off and get three points."

The situation became direr in the 69th minute, as Anthony Jackson-Hamel smoothly placed a perfect header past Blake off a cross from Ambroise Oyongo. The Impact then tied the game in the 87th with another from Jackson-Hamel. 

"When I came to this club, we were all ambitious and this is not the start we wanted," Bedoya said. "I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I thought today I worked my butt off and so did all the guys. And to give up three soft goals, what I think were soft goals, it sucks. It's disappointing. Frustrating."

The Union, with a slightly defensive lineup featuring Ray Gaddis for Keegan Rosenberry, haven't won a game since Aug. 27, 2016 and had no answer for the Impact.

"I thought we had some breaks in the first half, played well and scored some goals," Curtin said. "We could have scored more. That killer instinct to finish off the game is something we talk about, something we work on. We came up short."

Union-Impact 5 things: Searching for confidence, goals against visiting Montreal

Union-Impact 5 things: Searching for confidence, goals against visiting Montreal

Union vs. Impact
1 p.m. on 6ABC

After suffering four consecutive losses, the winless Union (0-4-2) will grasp for traction when they host the one-win Montreal Impact (1-2-3) on Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium.

It's a battle at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Here are five things to know:

1. Finding confidence
The Union's nightmarish start continued last Friday with a devastating home loss to New York City FC. It was the club's fourth straight defeat, which sank the Union to the bottom of MLS with two points through six games.

"We've put ourselves in a tough spot with our start," Union attack Chris Pontius said. "We know what we have to fix, everything is fixable. We have the talent here, we've seen it throughout games, we just need to put it together for 90 minutes."

According to manager Jim Curtin, the Union's issues, while plentiful, aren't easy to pinpoint and correct. But what Curtin can identify is that his club is putting in the work to turn things around.

"It's not for lack of effort," Curtin said. "This group is so deserving of a result. I feel for the guys because I see how hard they work each and every week."

However, one fixable aspect of the Union's game is a stiffening of their upper lip. If the fragile Union can maintain a strong mental state through the ebbs and flows of Saturday's match and beyond, Curtin is confident his team will begin to see favorable results.

"When things aren't going well, guys start to press and confidence is down," he said. "You start to see guys try to do too much and be the one to make a big play.

"There will be mistakes that are made over the course of 90 minutes. It's how you bounce back, that's how you get points in this league. It's something we discussed. Is there a magic potion to cure it? I wish there was but there's not. But we have to get through this together."

2. Finding the net
If the Union want to begin that turnaround, they will need to hit the net. Curtin's club is tied for the second-fewest goals scored in MLS this season at five, despite adding 70 total shots in six games.

"We need to punish teams, we need to put some goals away," Pontius said. "The past few games, we've started the game brightly, turned over teams in bad spots but we just haven't punished them and got the goals that we needed."

Alejandro Bedoya believes those goals will arrive. The Union captain, who remained confident in his team's ability to climb out from this hole, blamed his club's attacking issues on "small margins" in the offensive third.

"We've stressed that it's important to have a high energy level, it's been intense," Bedoya said. "The results have not gone our way but guys haven't gotten discouraged, which is a good sign. We're still confident, we just have to tweak a few things, we have to get sharper in the final third and execute on some plays. It'll come. We're not concerned with it, we'll right the ship."

But believing is only part of the equation. Curtin identified some of the on-field issues that have kept the Union out of the net and plans on fixing them for Saturday.

"The only way you get to goal in this league is playing that forward ball," said Curtin, who believes his team isn't being aggressive enough with its passing. "We've worked on that a great deal. There hasn't been a ton of times where our wingers have gotten in behind, teams are keeping us in front of them right now. It's fair to say we've had good possession but it's not where the other team is really threatened." 

3. Counter Impact
With just one more win on the season than the Union, the visiting Impact know exactly what to expect when the whistle blows at Talen Energy Stadium. They've been through it.

"It's going to be a tough game because they have to go out there and shine," Impact forward Dominic Oduro told the media. "The fans want a win, they want a win and the coaches want a win. They are going to come full force."

Expecting that pressure from the Union, the Impact will use their speed to work the counter attack. After all, it's their calling card.

"We're good at counter attacking, so hopefully we absorb the pressure and take that for our advantage," Oduro said. "They'll have the crowd behind them, so we have to be smart and absorb that pressure."

Curtin is well aware of what to expect. 

"Montreal is a very dangerous team that is good on the counter attack and has some very experienced players," he said. "We'll have to be sharp. They have a very dangerous group."

Although the Impact, who are coming off a 2-1 win against Atlanta United, know the Union are vulnerable, they refuse to take the hosts lightly. As Impact coach Mauro Biello told the media, it's a league of parity.

"We know they haven't won a game yet but this is a good team, a team that will be desperate to win," Biello said. "When you look at the standings, you can get a false indication. They have quality players on that side and we have to be ready on our end to go get points."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: With Bedoya dropping from the No. 10 position back to his more natural No. 8 slot, the Union are expected to rely on Roland Alberg to take over as primary midfield playmaker for the second consecutive week. "His possession was deeper than we'd want it to be," Curtin said of Alberg's performance last week. "He connected a lot of his passes but we want them to take a little more risk and be a little more forward. He showed some good signs."

Impact: The Impact's MVP in 2016, Ignacio Piatti missed two games with an injury before returning last week with a vengeance. He scored a goal and registered five shots. In four career games against the Union, Piatti has two goals and two assists. 

5. This and that
• The Union are undefeated hosting the Impact, holding a 2-0-4 home record against the Canadian side. However, the club is 3-5-5 all-time against the Impact, outscored, 22-15.

• For the third game, the Union will be without goalkeeper John McCarthy, who is recovering from a concussion. Jake McGuire is expected to be the primary backup. Defender Josh Yaro (shoulder) is also out, despite being near full health.

• Throughout training this week, Curtin, who may be looking to counter the Impact's forward speed, played right back Ray Gaddis with the starting team ahead of Keegan Rosenberry, and Jack Elliott ahead of Oguchi Onyewu.