By Dave Zeitlin
CHESTER, Pa. – After the third consecutive question about
the Brazilian World Cup winner was fired at him, Philadelphia Union manager
John Hackworth paused and gave a nervous smile.
“This is a lot more Kléberson than
I thought there’d be in this press conference,” he said.
He probably should have seen it coming.
If you follow the Union even casually, you may have noticed
that Hackworth’s midfield selection is at the top of the list in terms of fan
gripes. And for good reason. Through eight games this season, Philly’s midfield
has accounted for zero goals and just three assists. And they’ve routinely
gotten smoked in the possession battle (a stat, it should be noted, that
Hackworth doesn’t think holds much meaning).
Meanwhile, Kléberson has played a grand total of 29 minutes in
the four games he’s been active since coming over on loan in part of the deal
that rid the Union of Freddy Adu’s contract.
Why has the 33-year-old Brazilian who once
played for Manchester United had such a limited role so far, even though he’s
said to be doing well in training?
We asked Hackworth about this Wednesday,
as we’ve had for much of the past month. And he answered in pretty much the
same way he has for the past month, saying that Kléberson still needs to time
to “get acclimated” and that they didn’t want to play him too much in last
Saturday’s game because he’s not used to playing on turf and that he’s still not
yet prepared to play a full 90 minutes.
You’d think the team’s Designated Player
(read: the guy who makes the most money) could be able to handle all the new
stuff being thrown at him in MLS – but, sure, those are all semi-logical
strategic reasons for holding him back initially.
The problem, it seems, that most Union fans have is that Kléberson – and, to a lesser extent Sebastien Le Toux and Gabe Farfan – seems
to be below Keon Daniel and Danny Cruz on the depth chart. And, it’s probably
fair to say, those are not two of the most popular players on the team. (For
the record, I think Cruz is a solid MLS player and I think the venom he gets
from fans is unwarranted a lot of the times.)
Naturally, both Daniel and Cruz came up during
Wednesday’s press conference. And Hackworth defended his choices for routinely
starting the two midfielders. He called Daniel “one of our best players this
year” and someone who has “superior technique to anyone on our team.” And he said
Cruz has been “one of our most effective players in possession" and “one of our
most creative players in getting entries into the final third of the field,
especially in the penalty area.”
While it’s true that Daniel has a smooth
touch and Cruz can use his speed and hustle to stretch a defense like few
players can, it’s hard to argue that a more creative midfield would probably include Kléberson
and both Farfan brothers playing in front of Brian Carroll and feeding in
passes to the fun-to-watch striker tandem of Conor Casey and Jack McInerney.
Will that ever happen? Will Gabe Farfan get back into the
midfield rotation and play alongside his brother Mike? Will Hackworth unleash Kléberson and see what he can do in MLS?
Or will be asking the same questions a month for now?
Dave Zeitlin covers the
Union for MLSsoccer.com and CSNPhilly.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on
Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.