Union's Kleberson shines in starting debut


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 offering great deals on field level seats ahead of MLS Cup Playoffs

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Union offering great deals on field level seats ahead of MLS Cup Playoffs

Playoff soccer is returning to Chester for the first time in five years, and while fans prep for the Union’s first postseason games since 2011, there is no shortage of seating options for Union tickets on the primary market.

Perhaps most importantly, fans won’t have to break the bank to be on hand as the Union compete for their first MLS Cup in franchise history. Union field level seats are available for both the team’s final home regular season game against the New York Red Bulls and the Eastern Conference Semifinal on October 30 should they advance past the knockout round.

The team’s official website lists feet-on-the-pitch seating starting from $155 per ticket for this weekend’s game against the Red Bulls. The first-place Red Bulls head to Talen Energy Stadium with a first-round bye secured, but Union head coach Jim Curtin expects them to bring the pressure with them on Sunday. Fans can look on up close – and for relatively cheap - as the Union look to hand the Eastern Conference leaders their final loss of the regular season.

The Union will take on either New York City FC or Toronto FC in the knockout round either next Wednesday or Thursday. Pending a victory on the road, they’ll return to Talen Energy Stadium to host an Eastern Conference Semifinal game on October 30. Field level seating is still widely available for the team’s first home playoff game since 2011 and start from $178 per ticket.

2016 marks the franchise’s second MLS Cup Playoffs berth in its seven-year existence. They clinched a first-round bye in 2011 but fell to the Houston Dynamo by a 3-1 aggregate in the Conference Semifinals. The Union bring a much different vibe into the playoffs this season, however, after a formidable stretch from September on nearly drowned their postseason hopes. The team won its last game on August 27 against Sporting Kansas City, losing four games and drawing in two others since. 

Despite the team’s recent struggles, there is a sense of renewment that will carry them into the MLS Cup Playoffs. Records are cast aside and the slate is wiped clean, beginning a new path on the long and often tumultuous road to a national championship.

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.”