Is it time for Klberson to play more for the Union?

Is it time for Klberson to play more for the Union?

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 djzeitlin@gmail.com and follow him on
Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright remembers facing Joel Embiid's Kansas team, and he's shocked by the improvements Embiid made while sitting out the last two years.

"Could you imagine not playing for two years and getting better?" Wright said Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. "We played against him in college and he was not close — he was good, but not close to the player that he was at the start of this year. 

"What [the Sixers'] staff did while he was out is incredible. I don't know what other pro athlete has done that or could do that — not play and improve drastically.

"He's a unique force. We haven't seen a guy that's got this will defensively and ability defensively and then the skill level and mobility offensively. I've heard some people compare him to (Hakeem) Olajuwon. He's far more mobile than Olajuwon. Olajuwon, offensively, had his set of skills, which [Embiid] will develop. But the mobility he's got far exceeds Olajuwon. He's exciting. ... It's nice to feel this vibe with the Sixers right now."

Wright was also asked if he, as a coach, would want a player on a minutes restriction participating in the All-Star Game.

"Yeah, I would," he said. "I think that it's such an accomplishment for Joel Embiid. It would build his confidence so much to be on the floor with those guys and realize he's earned this. And to have that a part of his psyche going into the next season — 'OK, I've already been separated during the regular season with those guys, I belong with those guys.' So next year I'm thinking, 'I wanna beat these guys, I wanna be better than these guys.' 

"I think it'll be great for him. I think it's awesome ... what Brett Brown and his staff have done with this guy."

As lucky as good?
With a national championship and another No. 1 ranking this season, it would be understandable if Wright was feeling himself right about now. 'Nova is 17-1 and back atop the AP poll after a brief stint at No. 3.

National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart is leading the way for the Wildcats with 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. A lot of Villanova's success this season is owed to Hart's decision to return for his senior year, so Wright has no issue admitting there's been some luck involved in the Wildcats' recent success.

"It's a tremendous advantage and it's really been probably the most important factor in our success the last three, four years," Wright said of 'Nova's senior leadership Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad.

"A lot of it is, on Villanova's side, luck. Josh Hart could have left last year. He just looked at it and kind of said, 'I could be maybe a late first-round, early [second-round pick]. I'd rather come back and get my degree.' 

"Having people that make that choice, you're lucky. If we lose him last year, we're a lot younger team this year. Daniel Ochefu the year before was faced with that decision. He stayed. 

"So when you get those guys that decide they're gonna stay, you catch a break because they're invaluable, a senior of that level. Daniel's playing in the NBA now. So we had a guy for a year that was an NBA player. And we have that with Josh this year. Kris (Jenkins) is developing into one, Darryl (Reynolds) has a chance."

Villanova, which destroyed Seton Hall 76-46 on Monday, hosts Providence Saturday at noon.

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

When Brett Brown agreed to become the Sixers' head coach, he knew he was embarking upon a unique challenge with a franchise that planned to be as methodical as possible in its rebuild. 

One of the results was a career record for Brown of 47-199 entering this season, a record so lopsidedly poor that Brown may never break the .500 mark.

But the Sixers are finally showing real progress, with a star in Joel Embiid and young players who are turning out to be useful pieces. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine, and there's no one happier to see that than Brown's former boss and mentor, Gregg Popovich.

"It's one of my joys in life to watch them win basketball games because if there's any team that deserves it, it's those guys," Popovich told ESPN.

Brown and the Sixers aren't out of the woods yet. At 14-26, they're still closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but the entire vibe around the team has changed. 

"They've had it really tough for all the obvious reasons," said Popovich, who has been the Spurs' head coach since 1996 and worked with Brown from 2002-13.

"There's nobody in our business that is more positive, and more day-to-day upbeat and ready to teach and love than Brett Brown. He's a unique, unique guy."