CHESTER, Pa. -- Facing the New York Red Bulls on Saturday won’t just be a rivalry game for the Union. It isn’t just an Eastern Conference showdown or the fourth game of the season.
For the Union players, Saturday’s match at Red Bull Arena is a chance to earn some much-needed respect.
“This is a statement game,” said Union midfielder Michael Lahoud. “These are the types of games I want to play in and the type of game our team is made to play in. It’s a big matchup and we’re looking forward to it. We’ll be ready.”
With a 2-1-0 record on the year, the Union are in position to make themselves an early presence in the conference. And although the Red Bulls are struggling at 0-2-2, taking down the mighty Thierry Henry-led New York club for the first time ever at Red Bull Arena, would be a major boost for the Union.
“It’s a massive opportunity to make a statement to our arrival and to let the rest of the league know we’re for real," said Lahoud. "We’re going to go into a tough environment and show you guys we are for real.”
Coach John Hackworth is thrilled that his players recognize the opportunity and don’t have to be told how important the contest is to perception.
“We haven’t talked about it but the players have talked about it,” said Hackworth. “When you hear things like that, I know I don’t have to go and reinforce those messages. If players are saying those things that’s what you want. It’s good to know that a guy like Michael, and I know I heard it from Jeff [Parke] [Brian Carroll], Sebastien [Le Toux], that this is a really important game for us.”
With the Freddy Adu for Jose Kleberson deal now in ink, the countdown has begun as to when the 33-year-old designated player will make his midfield debut for the Union.
According to Hackworth, it won’t be this week.
“Our hope right now is that we have him here as soon as possible,” said Hackworth, who mentioned the difficulty surrounding proper paperwork. “We believe everything has been cleared. Hopefully we have him here [Thursday] or the next day.”
But Kleberson shouldn’t expect a starting spot waiting for him when he does arrive. With a team-wide motto stating that the best players in training play in the game, the Union want to ease the Brazilian into his role without alienating current players fighting for the same spot.
“I want to make sure we give him time to get integrated,” said Hackworth. “I keep talking about guys coming in and earning it. The last thing I want to do is pull a guy off a plane and insert him on a team that is, at the moment, a solid group of guys that understands the work ethic. We’ll see. The thought is right now we want to see him in training.
“We think his experience and quality is exceptional and that is welcome in our locker room but at the same time, we don’t want to push anything too fast.”
When Kleberson, who is on loan from Brazil club Bahia for 2013 with a Union option for 2014, does make his inevitable appearance, Hackworth expects him to play centrally.
“We’ve watched a lot of film with him in it and we believe he is still a very good player,” said Hackworth. “He will be a central player for the most part. He could be in there similar to what Brian Carroll and Michael Farfan play or perhaps where Keon [Daniel] is. There are some options. But we do want to see him on the training field and integrate him into our team the proper way.”